Birima Seck isn’t trying to shed “the freshman 15” like some of his fellow University of New Mexico students who are experiencing the college life for the first time.
In fact, the 6-foot-11 UNM freshman forward on the Lobo basketball team is open to suggestions on how he can add some weight to the rail-thin, 187-pound frame he showed up with over the summer from Dream City Christian prep school in Glendale, Arizona.
“I sneak protein powder into his oatmeal,” said teammate Gethro Muscadin, the 6-10 Kansas transfer who teammates agree is the best chef on the team and who regularly makes meals for his teammates.
“I don’t know what he does to it, but I love the oatmeal he makes,” Seck said last week.
Be it the oatmeal, the secret protein powder, the workout regime of strength coach Matt Flores, or likely a combination of them all, Seck on Wednesday was proud to say something seems to be working.
“I’m up to 195 pounds,” he said with a smile when talking to reporters ahead of Friday night’s Lobo exhibition game in the Pit against NCAA Division II New Mexico Highlands.
“And I’m getting stronger. I feel it.”
That’s been clear.
The Senegal native is noticeably stronger on the court, but it’s his recent strides mentally that may prove more important. He will be playing more at the start of the season than maybe originally planned – returning 6-10 forward Valdir Manuel is suspended indefinitely and Muscadin has dealt with some discipline matters of his own that led to his missing last week’s intrasquad scrimmage.
“Before I came here, I got a mind-set that I’m a good player,” said Seck. “Honestly, my first two weeks (in Albuquerque), I was like, ‘Oh, man. I’m not good. I’m not there yet.’ I saw them (the other Lobo big men) — they were big, they can shoot, they can do everything. …
“That was hard because I was thinking I was a good player, but when I got here, things were different.”
If the initial shock began to wear off in two weeks, it took about two months, he said, before he started to really feel comfortable again on the court, which has happened in just the past few weeks.
It was due in part, Seck says, to his teammates – sophomore guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. in particular – helping him to regain his confidence.
“I feel like the game is mostly mental,” said Mashburn, a 6-2 guard who played for first-year Lobox coach Richard Pitino last season at Minnesota and is one of three players voted by teammates to be a team captain this season.
“And I think for (Seck) … I just think he needs to just continue to (build) that confidence and really bring that confidence out. He’s been getting (to) the gym. He’s with me every day working in the gym. I always harp on him to just keep playing hard. Keep being you and just keep at it.”
Seck says his role for now is defense, effort and rebounding like crazy. And he no longer has any doubts about the levels he can rise to in the sport.
“Right now, I’m feeling great,” Seck said. “I’m confident. It’s not because it’s easy. … I just kept working. I’m not going to say I’m there, but I’m ready to go (to start the season).”
Pitino says the strides Seck has made over the past month or so are undeniable.
“I definitely see improvement with Birima,” Pitino said. “I think before, he was trying to figure it out, so to speak – where he is on the court. (Now), I think he’s starting to understand if I just play hard, and I listen, I’m gonna get opportunities. He doesn’t keep score of anything else.”
Where some players might let a bad call or a missed assignment linger in their heads for a few more possessions, Pitino says, “Birima doesn’t care. He just moves on. That’s a skill like anything else. And I do think that our players have been very good with helping him build confidence. I’ve seen it.”