Freeing himself from the ‘Baconator’ opened up Isaiah Miles' game

There is a Wendy’s on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, right across the street from the Saint Joseph’s University campus. And that is where the college career of Hawks forward Isaiah Miles nearly went to die.

Only by swearing off the place (among other things) has he soared, becoming one of the Atlantic 10’s finest players in this, his senior year.

His weight is down, his stamina up, his numbers way up. The 6-7 Miles finished the regular season in the top 10 in conference scoring (18.2, seventh), rebounding (8.0, fifth), field-goal percentage (.522, ninth) and free-throw percentage (.881, first). He was also 11th in blocked shots (1.0) and 14th in 3-point percentage (.389).

With junior forward DeAndre’ Bembry, Miles has given the Hawks (27-7) a formidable 1-2 punch heading into the NCAA Tournament after beating VCU 87-74 victory in Sunday's Atlantic 10 championship game. Bembry led the Hawks with 30 points and Miles added 26.

“My last year, you just want to end it the best that you can,” Miles said. “I don’t want to look back at this year when I graduate and say I wish ‘I would have done this more,’ ‘I wish I would have done that more.’ I’m just letting it all out, giving my all, every single game, because I know it’s my last.”

He is better equipped to do that seeing as he weighs 216 pounds, some 24 fewer than earlier in his career. Not coincidentally he played little his first two years on campus, averaging just five minutes in 12 games as a freshman and nine minutes in 28 appearances as a sophomore.

He emerged as a starter last winter, scoring 10.7 points and grabbing 5.1 rebounds a night. But his commitment to conditioning has allowed him to make a quantum leap this season. He has seven double-doubles, including a 36-point, 15-rebound explosion against Virginia Tech on Dec. 22. His point total in that game was a career high; he also had a career-high 16 boards against Richmond on Jan. 2, a game in which he notched 17 points.

As he told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen in January, his undoing had been fried food, particularly “the old Baconator” at Wendy’s — a 939-calorie monstrosity that contains a whopping 56 grams of fat.

Jensen noted that the Wendy’s on City Line is part of the St. Joe’s meal plan. So, Miles told him, it was "free Baconators whenever you wanted it."

And that sandwich was holding him down, literally.

“It was one of many (issues),” Miles said. “All around the whole campus, there’s free food everywhere.”

He rejiggered his diet, eating just baked foods, particularly fish. He began drinking only water. And he jogged everywhere.

The pounds, as a result, fell off. SJU strength and conditioning coach Brian Bingaman said Miles’ body-fat percentage, which was “in the high 20s” earlier in his career, is now “in the teens.”

His endurance has improved as a result. He is averaging 34.4 minutes a game, second on the team to Bembry’s 36.6.

“A lot of games I played the whole 40 minutes,” Miles said, “and I feel like I can play a whole ’nother 40 minutes after the game’s over.”

Beyond that, Bingaman said, “He’s able to go and get that rebound off the second jump. He’s quick to get up there. And early in the season he was blocking some shots. With him being a little bit lighter, he’s just been able to maximize his athletic ability.”

It wasn’t that Miles wasn’t a hard worker earlier in his career, Bingaman said. It was just a matter of him going the extra mile. Or, rather, not walking those few feet across City Line.

“You try to educate the guys on eating right and doing all the right things when they’re off the court or away from me, and he finally started doing it,” Bingaman said. “It’s fantastic.”

Miles admits that he kicks himself “all the time” for not seeing the light sooner.

“But you can’t go back in time and change that,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing it now.”

Bingaman just figures it’s better late than never.

“Obviously you want to see those guys get it a littler earlier,” he said, “but the nice thing now is you have a senior doing all these things, and he kind of brings the younger guys along.”

In a larger sense, Miles is bringing the whole team along. No telling where he might take everyone, though there’s one place he’s surely not going. Not anymore.

Above: Once he changed his diet and committed to exercise and conditioning, Isaiah Miles dropped 24 pounds and gained energy. (Courtesy Saint Joseph's Athletics)

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