Slimming down to speed up: How Eric Ayala changed his body and his game

Much of the talk this offseason surrounding the men’s basketball team was weight gain. Forwards Ricky Lindo and Jalen Smith added 20 and 10 pounds, respectively, and even senior point guard Anthony Cowan packed on 10 pounds of muscle. 

But while most players were eating more, sophomore Eric Ayala was eating less. As his freshman campaign wound down, Ayala made the decision he needed to slim down.

“It was something I was thinking about towards the end of the season. I just wasn’t aware how I would do it,” said Ayala. “When we were playing, I needed the energy to go out and keep playing. As the season was over, I was like ‘this is the next step for me.’”

Ayala had a good freshman season by all accounts. He started the last 33 games of the season and was third on the team in minutes. Ayala played almost every minute of both NCAA Tournament games and had some big moments throughout the year.

But to take his game to the next level, his body had to change. The Wilmington, Delaware, native was playing at roughly 208 to 213 pounds last season. Now? He stands at a much leaner 187. The weight loss has added extra quickness and athleticism to his game.

“I feel a lot more athletic in all aspects of my game. Offensively, defensively, getting out and running. I can get to where I want to fluidly,” Ayala, who threw down some impressive dunks in Maryland’s open practice, said. 

Losing the weight was not easy. It required a lot of lifestyle changes. Ayala was, admittedly, a big fan of Oreo’s and Popeyes. But now, his diet is more protein based. His go-to being eggs and bacon. Habits he could get away with in high school, like eating Chinese food or fried chicken before a game are now gone.

A big part of Ayala and several other Terps offseason changes is Director of Basketball Performance, Kyle Tarp. While Tarp was providing snack packs consisting of nutritious foods to help players gain weight, he was acting as a resource for Ayala as well.

“Coach Kyle, he does a great job with us. He helps me out a lot. He’s only a phone call or text away,” Ayala noted. “If I’m at a restaurant, I’ll call him and say ‘Coach, what do you think about this?’” 

To which Tarp will respond, “No not that. Maybe this instead.”

Ayala admits he’s not much of a chef at this point, but that is the next step for him in his nutritional journey.

In terms of his role this season, Ayala will be asked to do a lot of the things he specialized in last year. He can be a secondary ball handler that initiates offense, or even primary when Cowan sits. He will also spend a lot of time off the ball and as a 40 percent three point shooter, he is more than capable of doing so.

The weight loss should also improve his ability to defend. Ayala realizes to play at the next level he needs to be able to matchup with quicker guards. He credits guarding Cowan in practice to improve his defense.

Expectations are high in College Park this season with the team ranked seventh in the AP poll. But the ever steady and calm Ayala isn’t focused too much on that.

 “We are just taking it one day at a time. Time flies,” Ayala said. “Last year, we were going so fast I forgot to enjoy a couple of those moments. Now, I just want to enjoy every second of being a Maryland basketball player.”