"It was the toughest thing I've ever done."
"Just constantly showing up knowing I had to kill myself again and again in the weight room to get in shape was tough, but it's been worth it."
Sophomore center Andrew Drone was an imposing figure when he arrived on campus as a rookie for the Fall 2013 semester. At 6-10 and weighing around 300 pounds, the rookie looked like he might fit in on the football team's offensive line as much as he would on a basketball court. But over the course of the last 16 months, particularly the ensuing summer, the big man has proven his commitment to Rice Basketball's success on the court through a rigorous training regimen.
Even though he is down to a strong playing weight of 260 pounds, Drone notes, "It's still a work in progress. I know I'm going to be working a lot with (Strength and Conditioning) Coach Nick Michael again this summer trying to get into better shape and continue to try and trim my body down and get ready not just for next season, but for every season. My body is just a constant work in progress. I'm constantly trying to keep my weight in check and keep my fitness up." As for the most difficult part of his off-season training, that's an easy answer for Drone.
"The hardest thing was the VersaClimber. It's a non-impact climbing simulator. I know several times it felt like a workout in itself to go for 30 minutes, and that was just part of the low-intensity days. When we went through our "Road Games" and our SEAL Week as a team, those things were all more mentally tough and demanding than physically difficult for me because of my training with the VersaClimber. But when you're on it, there's just no end in sight."
Through 10 games of his sophomore season, the hard work has already begun paying dividends. The Ridgway, Ill. native has started nine games and leads the team with 5.6 rebounds per contest to accompany 8.5 points in 21.9 minutes of action. He has scored in double figures three times in his last five games, including career highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds in the team's win over St. Thomas in mid-December.
The team-first center attributes his recent success on the court to his teammates.
"They really have been looking to get the ball to me in the post in the last few games. My teammates always look out for me. As a team, we're really close to the point that part of our problem is that we're too unselfish. We're always looking to move the ball and pass the ball. Even at times when we should take it ourselves, we look for an open man instead. A lot of my recent play has been my teammates looking for me."
Drone says that a big part of his commitment to the team has been to help give some of his teammates what they deserve in their final year of college basketball. "I have grown close to our two seniors as well as (graduate transfer) Van Green and we're a close team. I just want to work hard and help them enjoy their last year - Seth Gearhart and Dan Peera deserve that after the past few seasons."
Even if the team's growth and progress isn't reflected by its record, Drone feels like the seniors are leading the team in the right direction.
"Going back to the Mercer game and even to the season opener at Oregon State - if we just executed a little better, just two or three plays even, we're right there with a chance to win. So as our execution's gotten better and we've gotten adjusted to playing the system practice time has been good. But until you really get battle tested in some games, it's hard to know far you've come."
"Coach (Mike Rhoades) always says it's a process, and the process doesn't always happen when you want it to. It happens when it wants to. The goal is to just keep working along and I feel like as a team we're close to taking that next step. There's always another step after that - we just want to keep getting better as a team and playing together and being ready for the next thing."
Though he's just a sophomore himself, Drone is one of the more established veterans on the team, having seen action in all 30 games his freshman year. This season, he has been able to take on another big man, 7-1 freshman Nate Pollard, daily in practice and help instill the same level of commitment and hard work.
"Nate and I have a good relationship. We're friends off the court, but in practice it's almost like a war zone. Coach Rhoades splits us into two different teams so we're always going at each other every day. Once you step on the practice court, you're not on the same team anymore and it's time to go at each other. But when we're on the same team, we're always talking and doing little things to help each other out."
Despite his relative seniority, Drone doesn't view himself as the mentor - but rather that the pair are in roughly the same position.
"We're both basically freshmen this year. I've got a year of experience under my belt, but with the new coaches and system it's back to square one. We've both helped each other out a lot and we've grown pretty close since this process has started."
It's that unselfishness, camaraderie and hard work that has the Owls thinking optimistically about the future. Drone even admits that he's looking forward to spending a lot of time next summer in the weight room with Coach Michael, and yes, even the VersaClimber.
Men's Basketball Falls at Texas
Rice University men's basketball suffered just its second double-figure setback of the season at Texas, 66-44, at the Erwin Center on Monday afternoon.