The Wisconsin Badgers are getting back to work ahead of the 2023 season, having completed their seventh practice of the fall on Wednesday as they get ready for the season opener against UW-Stevens Point in an exhibition match on November 1st.
After a disappointing 2022 campaign that involved missing the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1998, the Badgers revamped their roster with the additions of transfer wing A.J. Storr and freshmen John Blackwell, Nolan Winter, and Gus Yalden.
However, a majority of the focus is on the returners, as the Badgers are retaining nearly their entire rotation from a season ago, including their starting five as they look to grow from last year’s woes.
One of the returners underwent a significant transition in the offseason, slimming down 15 pounds to become faster and more explosive: guard Chucky Hepburn.
Now, Hepburn weighs in around 190 pounds and looks noticeably slimmer on the court.
What prompted the transition?
Speaking to reporters at Wisconsin’s Media Day, head coach Greg Gard revealed the change actually began over a year ago and continued into this offseason.
“As guys go through their career, they kind of find through experimentation, some of its success, some of its failure, what’s right for them and their body,” Gard said. “He made the movement towards this over a year ago. Chucky [Hepburn] has changed his consumption. We could all probably take lessons from how he eats, but he wanted to slim down, trim down, become leaner, lower body fat percentage, higher muscle mass.”
In sports, the moniker is usually increasing weight to get stronger, but that isn't always the best solution for players.
“What you weigh necessarily doesn’t really always lead to success. So more sometimes isn’t better. And we’ve had guys do that throughout their career in the 20-plus years that I’ve been here,” Gard said.
What impressed Gard this offseason was the fact that Hepburn and fellow guard Connor Essegian sought to seek out body improvements on their own, rather than facing the lights with the coaching staff.
“But the fact that they realize it, I think is always a good sign that the coaches don’t have to be the first ones to point it out and offer advice. Like I said, Chucky, and huge credit to him because I never see him eat anything but salads. So I thought it was just a one-time thing.”
“But, it was like I said early last year, he knew that it was going to take some time for him to change his body and he’s done an awesome job with it.”
Not only has Hepburn changed weight-wise, but his teammates are noticing a “hungrier” mentality from the now-veteran point guard.
“Man, he’s hungry,” backup point guard Kamari McGee said. “That’s all I’m going to say. I’m going to let everybody know he’s hungry.”
“I’ve watched him. I’ve been in the gym with him, putting in the extra work in the weight room. Seeing him slim down like I’ve watched him.”
McGee went as far as to say that Hepburn’s been as hungry as anyone he’s ever seen as the starter looks to establish himself during his junior season.
“I’ve never seen somebody hungrier than that. So he’s doing what he has to do to make sure he’s that top point guard in this conference and in the nation,” McGee said. “So he’s working. He’s going to continue to work.”
Fellow guard Connor Essegian, who worked to gain 10 pounds himself, could only praise his backcourt counterpart for the improvements, noting they’ve definitely been seen on the court.
“[Chucky’s] made great strides and [got] what he wanted, what he envisioned in the weight room,” Essegian said. “And you can definitely see it, the way he moves on the court, the way he kind of handles the ball on defense and just kind of being able to move just his body better.”
“He’s fast, he’s faster than he was last year. I feel like he already had good feet. So it’s awesome to see kind of what he’s done for himself.”
Already a solid defender, Hepburn will look to be more explosive and quicker this season as the veteran point guard, and his offseason work could be a good sign for what’s to come.