Big 12 Campus Correspondent
In today's world of sports, so much is made of student-athletes being in shape and maintaining their overall health so they can compete at a high level night in and night out.
No matter what the sport, the off-season is just as important as the regular season for all athletes. They lift weights, work on conditioning and try to improve in their respective sports before the beginning of regular season practices and games.
The same can be said for Oklahoma sophomore forward Andrew Fitzgerald. Ever since the Baltimore, Md., product arrived on campus, getting his weight down and improving his athleticism have been big priorities.
Arriving in Norman at 273 pounds before his freshman campaign, Fitzgerald has lost nearly 40 pounds and entered this season at 231 pounds. Losing the weight wasn't easy, mainly doing the little things necessary that most people take for granted.
"I really changed my diet," said Fitzgerald. "I've been working out since March and during that spring period, during the NCAA Tournament, I was in the gym just working on my body and trying to drop all of my weight."
Dropping the weight has allowed Fitzgerald to expand his game. It's also allowed him to become more comfortable and confident in the fast-paced style head coach Jeff Capel has implemented at Oklahoma.
"My game now plays very well into Coach Capel's system," said Fitzgerald. "Every possession I have to run the floor and my weight loss has allowed me to do that without getting as tired as I may have gotten last year."
Fitzgerald's weight loss and work ethic have become apparent to both his teammates and coaches. During the off-season, his Sooner teammates voted him as one of four team captains due to the hard work that he put in during the summer and preseason workouts.
The numbers on the stat sheet don't lie, and, to the captain's credit, they have risen drastically from a season ago.
Last year, Fitzgerald, who played in 26 games overall, averaged 4.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per outing. Through 11 games this season, his averages have increased monumentally. "Fitz" has averaged 14.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in 31.2 minutes a game.
It's evident that Fitzgerald's drop in weight has allowed him to play more minutes and compete at a higher level.
Although there was a significant decrease in weight, he was able to lose some fat and add extra muscle, which ultimately has led to him playing as a more athletic forward.
It's been his increase in athleticism and the expansion of his overall game that's been the biggest key to his offensive and defensive improvements.
"Just being quicker and being able to run the floor better really helped me a lot to see how I'm going to be able to help this team scoring-wise and defensively," said Fitzgerald. "Now I'm able to play on the perimeter for us since I'm more mobile, but my strength is still there where I can sink down to the post."
Although he started 11 games last year as a freshman, Fitzgerald's role was limited. He played behind former Sooners Tiny Gallon and Ryan Wright, so his court time and offensive touches weren't as significant as what he's experienced this season. However, being the Sooners' main post threat this year, Fitzgerald has seen his fair share of defensive attention while on the offensive end.
"Some teams will try to front me and others will come with a double team," he said. "I saw a lot of double teams in the Arizona game earlier this year. It depends on whether I'm down in the post or the perimeter, so I've seen a lot of different defenses against me and I've just got to adjust to it."
While some of the defenses have been hard to crack, the former four-star recruit is taking it as a compliment that he's able to receive double teams once again.
"It's a compliment but it's also more difficult. Now I have to find different ways to score, especially if it's in the paint. Now I have to pay more attention to details like setting screens or running a play a certain way because they're paying more attention to me than any other player on the court."
Amidst the Sooners' struggles early this season, Fitzgerald has been one of OU's bright spots. If his work ethic and improvements this past off-season are any indication of what the future holds for Fitzgerald, Sooner fans should be extremely excited to see a budding superstar coming on the rest of his career.