EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State center Derrick Nix has slimmed down and stepped up for the ninth-ranked Spartans.
Nix trimmed down to 267 pounds for preseason practices after weighing as much as 340 and improved conditioning is letting his talents shine.
The junior had 12 points in Saturday's 25-point win over Purdue. In consecutive games, he scored a career-best 25 points combined.
Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said Nix is a "huge factor" and he wasn't trying to be funny.
"Last year when we would go against him, we were always concerned, but he played in short spurts," Painter said. "Now he can play longer and you have to think about him on the scouting report.
"We have a lot of respect for him and his footwork," Painter said.
Nix is nimble enough to make low-post moves and to set screens near the top of the key and to move into the lane. If Nix gets the ball, he has a knack to score in various ways or set up open teammates to make shots of their own. On the other end of the court, Nix was in good enough shape to defend three Boilermakers on one trip down the court.
He scored on a pick-and-roll play in the first half against Purdue. Then, the Boilermakers tried to run him off some screens only to find that he was agile enough to switch and move his feet to stay in front of three different players. And, he had enough energy to grab the defensive rebound on the same possession.
"My conditioning is only going to get better," Nix said. "I'm still eating healthy. That's just part of my life now. It's not just a thing to get in shape, then start eating bad again. I'm just growing up."
The 6-foot-9 Nix weighed well over 300 pounds in high school — splitting time between Detroit Pershing and Murray Wright — in part because his go-to pregame meal was a large pizza and a 2 liter of soda.
His diet has changed, reshaping his body and rejuvenating his career.
"I wasn't a big fan of grilled chicken, now that might be my favorite food," Nix said. "I was used to fried chicken — KFC, Church's — growing up in Detroit, eating Coney Islands and chili fries. All that bad stuff. That just puts weight on you. I put a lot of weight on. I'll eat a hamburger here and there, but it's not often."
Nix insisted his weight woes are over.
Michigan State coaches have heard that before.
He got down to 266 pounds entering last season, then almost ate himself off the team.
Nix packed the pounds back on and that led to coach Tom Izzo leaving him home when the Spartans went to the Maui Invitational. He was able to rejoin the team after meeting with coaches and players. The former Mr. Basketball winner then dedicated himself to eating less and working out more.
He kept it up throughout the past offseason and was so proud of his improved shape that he stepped on a scale in front of reporters at the team's media day this season.
Izzo, though, isn't done pushing him.
Nix wasn't the first post player off the bench against Purdue because Izzo said he was a couple minutes late for a meeting.
"We're on him every day about continuing to play harder and getting more focused and he's doing a better job of it," Izzo said. "If he learns how to really work, that will make us a much better team."