You can’t lose almost 60 pounds without a lot of focus and a little will power. N.C. State sophomore BeeJay Anya needed both to get down to 290 pounds.
The taxing cardio workouts weren’t the main challenge for Anya, who got up to 348 pounds as a freshman. It was staying out of McDonald’s or Cook-Out or any of the other fast-food joints near campus.
“Driving on Western Boulevard is hard,” Anya said Wednesday at media day for N.C. State’s basketball team. “I just drive down and I’ve got to look straight ahead, if look to the right a little ”
He catches himself mid-sentence to avoid any further temptation. Anya, an affable big man from Washington, has lost a lot of weight but none of his personality.
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Anya has always had a good sense of humor about his weight. He said he does stop by the mirror more to check out his new physique but he said that’s nothing new with the weight loss.
“I did that before; I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” Anya said. “Now, it’s definitely more of eye candy.”
Even as Anya labored up and down the court as a freshman last season, he delivered energy and usually a big smile, or a muscle flex after a blocked shot or dunk.
Anya, a 6-foot-9 forward with an impossibly long 93-inch wing-span, led the Wolfpack with 46 blocks last season. The problem was he averaged only 11.8 minutes per game and couldn’t play much more than five or six minutes at a clip.
In the first half of N.C. State’s NCAA tournament game with Saint Louis, he sprinted down the floor, ran down a guard and swatted a layup attempt into the first row of seats at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
Anya flashed a smile and waved to the crowd for some noise. The problem was he was gassed after running down the floor and Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried had to sub for him.
Anya’s confident his new fitness level will allow him to play longer stretches this season and do more than just the occasional blocked shot or put-back dunk.
“Now that I’m in better shape, I’m more capable of running up and down the court,” he said. “I can go in there and play for 10-, 15-minute stretches and not have to worry about (coach) having to take me out.”
Gottfried and strength coach Bob Alejo have had a track record in their first three seasons of getting players in better shape, especially forwards. Richard Howell, Jordan Vandenberg and T.J. Warren made significant body transformations under Alejo’s tutelage.
Alejo, who worked with Gottfried at UCLA in the 1990s, said Anya has had to learn the hard way but he has put in the extra work to get to this point. Alejo and Anya developed a plan the day after the loss to Saint Louis. The first couple of weeks were only cardio workouts, no weights, and sometimes it was twice a day, for seven days a week, Alejo said.
“The light turns on with their own source of electricity,” Alejo said. “BeeJay’s didn’t come on immediately. Then he found it and decided to make the change.”
Gottfried said while Anya’s weight loss is significant, it’s only the first step.
“(The weight loss) gives him a chance to become a good player,” Gottfried said. “At 350 pounds, he had no chance to become a good player.
“That’s not the end all. That doesn’t mean that he’s ready to dominate the ACC. Now he has to truly learn to play at this level.”
Anya averaged 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in a limited role last season. He returns in the front court with sophomores Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman and freshman Abdul-Malik Abu.
Without Warren, last year’s ACC player of the year, N.C. State will need more scoring out of its bigs.
Anya’s not done working on his weight either. Last year before the season started, he got down to 308 pounds but ballooned back up to 343 by the end of the season.
He says he has the perfect motivation to stay in shape. There’s a team poster from last year at his apartment and his bloated frame is impossible to miss.
“I don’t want to go back to what I was before,” Anya said.