Arizona Wildcats center Christian Koloko became something of an internet sensation last month when an Instagram post showed him looking like the Incredible Hulk as he lifted a barbell above his head in a gym in Southern California.
“He’s finally taking my dang advice and eating,” senior Ira Lee quipped last month.
Other teammates chimed in on Koloko’s new physique, but he laughed it off.
“I was just laughing because I knew I didn’t gain any weight,” he said.
To that end, it’s been a frustrating offseason for the 7-footer, who still registers at 220 pounds, the same weight he played at last season after entering the program at 195.
Koloko wants to weigh 235 by the time he takes the court as a sophomore, and he saw the spring and summer as a chance to close the gap, but the coronavirus had other ideas.
The Wildcats have been away from campus ever since the Pac-12 Tournament was abruptly canceled in mid-March, and they won’t be able to return until mid-August at the earliest. So instead of being in Tucson where he’d have every resource imaginable to train, Koloko has spent the last four months at his sister’s house in Tarzana, California.
Koloko has been in constant contact with Arizona strength coach Chris Rounds during the pandemic, but working out at home is “just a lot different.”
“There’s not a lot of things he can actually help me do,” Koloko said. “I’m lifting but I don’t have all the equipment. ... I just have like probably two dumbbells and some bands.”
Head coach Sean Miller said earlier in the offseason that Koloko more than anybody could be affected by the pandemic. The big man is hoping to build off a freshman season in which he, despite arriving as a three-star recruit, established himself as an elite defender, albeit in a small sample size.
Slender frame and all, Koloko led the Wildcats in defensive rating and rebounding percentage, while posting the ninth-best block rate in the country, something he credits to his natural instincts. (Though having a 7-foot-4 wingspan certainly helps.)
“I definitely don’t work on my shot blocking,” Koloko said. “When I see a ball leave your hand, that’s when I’m going up.”
Koloko has been honing his offensive game, though. He knows he will need to be a lot more proficient on that end if he wants to play more than the 233 minutes he received across 28 games as a freshman.
Koloko only averaged 2.3 points per contest, shooting 48 percent from the field and 35 percent from the free throw line.
Koloko has been able to get some workouts in at a facility near Sierra Canyon, his old high school in Chatsworth, but California has had some of the most restrictive lockdown measures in the country, so gyms have been opening and closing over the last few months.
“I just tried to work more on my shot, my free throws and my post moves, a little bit of my ball-handling,” Koloko said. “But it was mostly my shot...mid-range, sometimes trying to step out and shoot 3s.”
In 2020-21, Koloko will be a key cog in a rebuilt Arizona frontcourt that will include returners Ira Lee and Jordan Brown as well as incoming international recruits like Azuolas and Tautvilas Tubelis, Daniel Batcho and Tibet Gorener.
When asked what kind of role he hopes to have, Koloko said he just wants to play—and win.
“I’m willing to do anything Coach asks me to do,” he said. “... I think it’s going to be like last year when we had five different bigs, but we’re all different, so I think it’s gonna be interesting to see how we complement each other, to see how we play together.”
A French connection
A native of Cameroon, French is Koloko’s first language. The same is true for two of his new teammates—Batcho, who’s from France, and freshman wing Bennedict Mathurin, a Haitian Canadian.
Mathurin hails from Quebec where the dialect is different, but Koloko said they can understand each other. He envisions that trio speaking lots of French this season.
“There’s just some differences, but it’s not a big deal,” Koloko said. “[Mathurin’s] accent is kind of different, but I was his host on his visit so we already talked together. It’s going to be fine.”
Koloko says defending Jordan Brown is a “nightmare”, James Akinjo is “a good point guard”
While former Nevada forward Jordan Brown did not play last season due to NCAA transfer rules, he practiced with the Wildcats all season. By all accounts, the former McDonald’s All-American was impressive.
“Jordan is a really good player,” Koloko said. “When he gets the ball in the post, that’s actually a nightmare right there. Even Ira, he can tell you, when Jordan got the ball, there’s not a lot he can do to really stop him.”
Koloko also shared his thoughts on Georgetown transfer point guard James Akinjo, who, like Brown, practiced with the Wildcats last season but did not play.
“He’s a good point guard,” Koloko said. “He’s not selfish, he looks for his teammates. I really like playing with him, playing pick-and-roll. If you’re open he’s going to find you. They’re both really good guys. I’m excited about this year.”