Rawane "Pops" Ndiaye, the newest member of Tennessee's basketball front court, shed 80 pounds off his frame before arriving as a junior college transfer in April. He wasn't done there.
The 6-foot-10 Senegal native immediately saw results upon entering the Vols' summer training program under strength and conditioning coach Nicodemus Christopher.
"Throughout the summer, we did a lot of speed and agility movement," Ndiaye said Monday at UT's basketball media day. "So it had me dropping weight and I was coming onto the floor moving quicker. Now, I'm running a little better than I was when I first got here."
Through the early goings of preseason practice, third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin has taken notice of Ndiaye's emergence and said he agrees with his much-improved quickness.
"He plays hard, runs the floor well," Martin said. "I think those are some of the things I didn't see as much when I recruited him. But he runs the floor really well.
"I like what I'm seeing from 'Pops.' 'Pops' has good energy. The guys like being around him."
Martin's lauding of his new big man could prove to be rewarding for the Vols, considering Ndiaye enters the program with two years of eligibility and in a position of need.
Post contributors Kenny Hall and Yemi Makanjuola are no longer with the program, which makes Ndiaye the only true center to back up a loaded starting front court of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes.
Ndiaye is hoping for a big role, but will welcome whatever Martin puts on his plate.
"I'm just going to do what I'm supposed to do, whatever coach Martin wants me to do, and play my role," he said.
Simply playing a role last season with Indian Hills Community College in Iowa came with a price. He battled a foot injury that sidelined him four months and he played sparsely over the 2012-13 season, but all signs point to the issue being behind him moving into the new season.
"I think I'm 100 percent," Ndiaye said. "The foot injury is not bothering me any longer. It slowed me down at the beginning when I first got injured; the recovery and rehab all took a long time."
Ndiaye's toughness and physicality are the traits that Martin and his staff recruited the big man for, which predictably aligns with Tennessee's "Tougher Breed" slogan for the 2013-14 season.
Perhaps even more predictable is Martin's vision for "Pops" as a defensive-minded player.
"He's a big body — he has to get better on both ends of the floor," Martin said. "But I would rather have him more on the defensive side rather than as a post on offense.
"He has decent hands, but I think defensively, we need him more."
With the mantra Ndiaye takes onto the floor heading into each game, Vol fans should expect nothing but passion and hard-nosed basketball from the newcomer.
"Play hard every game, just like it's going to be your last one," Ndiaye said. "I take every game like it's my last one, so I'm going to play hard every day.
"I don't take nobody easy. Like we say, it's a tougher breed here."