NORMAN â€” Oklahoma sophomore forward Andrew Fitzgerald looks like a different player.
A slimmer, trimmer Fitzgerald will play a key role for the Sooners, who open their season Friday night against Coppin State.
Fitzgerald has lost nearly 25 pounds, close to 50 pounds since he arrived as a 273-pound freshman two summers ago. He decreased his body fat from 23.4 to 9.0 percent.
"It's a complete difference," said Fitzgerald, one of only three returning OU players who logged significant playing time last season. "I feel more explosive. I'm more mobile. I can defend. It's crazy. I can even defend some of the guards on the team. But I'm still working on muscling up."
On a team that lacks size, the 6-foot-8 225-pound Baltimore product will be asked to anchor one of the Sooners' biggest concerns â€” rebounding.
Despite being in foul trouble in OU's only exhibition game last week, Fitzgerald recorded a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds.
"I realized I was too heavy to play in this league," Fitzgerald said. "I realized the bigs in our conference are slimmer and more mobile. I had to lose weight."
Fitzgerald, who averaged 4.8 points and 2.0 rebounds last season as a reserve, is one of OU's veteran leaders.
"Because of his condition he's able to play for longer periods of time," said senior guard Cade Davis, OU's only returning starter. "He's more agile. He moves better. He's also shooting the ball better. He shot well last year but he's shooting even better."
Fitzgerald's most productive games were against elite teams late in the season. He scored a season-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in a loss at No. 1 Kansas. He scored 14 points with five rebounds against No. 7 Kansas State.
"When you work as hard as he has, and changed your body, and put yourself in position to get more out of it, you're able to see the results," said coach Jeff Capel. "It's something he's very proud of. Because of that it's helped him become more confident."
Fitzgerald's secret to losing weight? Strenuous workouts, eating breakfast, a light lunch and a healthy dinner like chicken and vegetables. He's also eliminated his weakness.
"I used to make too many late-night pizza runs. Not anymore," Fitzgerald said, smiling. "I wasn't playing that much at the beginning of the year because of my mobility. Losing weight is my opportunity to get on the court and play."
Fitzgerald should play a lot on a team that has eight eligible newcomers. The Sooners lost their top four scorers and top three rebounders. OU returns just 28 percent of its scoring, 22 percent of its rebounding.
Losing three McDonald's All-Americans from a 13-18 team that underachieved the Sooners are picked by coaches to finish 11th in the league.
"There are a lot of people doubting us because we lost some players," Fitzgerald said. "I laugh and smile. Last year we had all the talent in the world and still ended up losing. This year there's more team chemistry. It's going to be a great season. I can't wait to get started."