Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Andrei Kirilenko didn't do himself any favors if he was trying to rid himself of those Ivan Drago comparisons.
After hitting the weights hard this summer, per the request of Jazz management, the Russian basketball player's bulked-up body resembles Rocky's Russkie boxing rival more now than ever.
Except for up top.
Kirilenko arrived to his ninth Jazz training camp with about 20 more pounds of muscle than he packed around last spring.
He was, however, missing his Drago-like spiky blonde hairdo.
Jazz brass will gladly take that trade.
"I like his haircut, looks good," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "He looks mature."
Looks more muscular, too.
While his bosses' focus on his weight at the end of the 2008-09 season surprised him, Kirilenko, then about 218 pounds, took their iron-pumping admonition to heart.
He didn't play for the Russian national team and focused more on putting pounds on than playing hoops, which causes him to shed weight.
The results are noticeable. After developing a workout routine with training specialists in California and implementing the plan in France and Russia, Kirilenko returned to Utah at his heaviest playing weight ever — 238.
He's still a small forward — just not as small of a forward.
The hard part now, Kirilenko admits, will be keeping the weight on — a probably many people can't relate with. Earlier this summer, he was discouraged that he'd lose about four pounds during pick-up games, but he has become encouraged that in the past three weeks he's maintained his mass even while increasing his time on the court.
"The style of my game is very energetic, and it's going to be my challenge of the season," Kirilenko said, referring to not losing all of his bulk.
"I definitely want to be a little bit stronger on the floor and see how I can be quick at the same point," he added. "As long as I can keep this weight on and run with it, I'll be fine. ... I feel pretty good."
Jazz bosses hope he can keep the weight on and adjust his game to his bigger size. That can be tricky. Coach Jerry Sloan recalled that the slender Thurl Bailey hit the weights hard one offseason and came back with thicker shoulders and arms.
"A 15-foot jump shot went about 10 feet," Sloan chuckled, "and it took him a while to overcome that."
O'Connor believes it will be a multi-faceted gain for A.K. and the Jazz.
"We didn't want him to look like Joe Palooka, that wasn't our intention," the Jazz GM said, pulling out a reference to the brawny boxer from the old comic strip. "Our intention was to get him stronger.
"At the end of the (2008-09) season, he really hurt himself by not being able to finish at the basket. And physically the weight he was at, he was rundown a little bit."
HEALING UP: Bad news for the bottom of the net and Jazz opponents. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver says his right wrist — which hampered him most of last season — "feels way better right now."
Better than it has in years, in fact. The strength and range of motion are back in his shooting wrist, which required minor surgery in May to remove scar tissue.
"Shooting the basketball, I haven't felt like this in a couple of years," Korver said. "I'm excited to get out there and shoot."
Perhaps it was the dodgeball-throwing therapy that worked.
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