Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The David McCormack Transformation

How a heavy high school freshman cut weight and climbed the ladder to Kansas

Kansas forward David McCormack pictured on Media Day, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward David McCormack pictured on Media Day, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.


Every morning during the summer of 2017, Janine McCormack’s days began at 4 a.m., with her son, David McCormack, quietly tiptoeing into her bedroom.

“I used to hate it,” Janine said during a recent interview with the Journal-World about her son, the newest starter on the 12th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball team. “He would wake me up and say, ‘Mom, I’m leaving. I’ll see you later.’ And I was like, ‘No you’re not. Where you going? You’re not leaving this house.’ But he always went. He would have that yoga mat and he would go down to the oceanfront to do his exercises.”

David told Janine the early departure ensured a good parking spot. But the real motive behind his wake-up calls centered on the fact that the future Jayhawk was addicted to transforming his body.


Nick Krug

Kansas forward David McCormack (33) flexes after a dunk during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Each day, David made the 25-minute drive to Virginia Beach, where he turned the serenity of the sand and shore into an intense training ground.

His grandmother, Daisy Daniel, loved the beach. Lazy walks, the soothing sound of the waves and the way the water changed color when the sun was setting all were a memorable part of David’s youth.

As dawn approached, David sprinted and jumped, backpedaled and lunged, jumped rope and meditated for a couple of hours before returning home.

That was his routine during the first summer home from Oak Hill Academy, where he became a new man and earned McDonald’s All-American honors before coming to Kansas.

But the initial stages of the David McCormack transformation began two years earlier, closer to his home in Norfolk, Va.

The beginning

On July 2, 1999, at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, Janine McCormack gave birth to her second son, David Joseph McCormack, via caesarean section after nearly 12 hours of labor.

“I remember the doctor saying we may have to do a C-section, and I was like, ‘Please do something,’” Janine recalled. “It was one of the longest days of my life.”

The second of Janine’s two sons spread 8 pounds and 15 ounces over 24 inches, and his birth measurements better resembled those found at 3-month checkups.


Current Kansas freshman David McCormack, poses at 6 years old in the uniform of the first AAU basketball team he played for back in Norfolk, Va.

David moved to Virginia when he was 2, but those early days were hardly the only time he stood out as big for his age.

“We would go places and I would think, ‘Gosh, why are those other kids so small?’” said Janine, remembering trips to the park or playground when David was 5 years old. “My sister, Kara, would tell me, ‘Those children are normal size. Your child is the abnormal one. Your kid is huge.’”

At age 5, David looked more like a 7-year-old. By the time he was 7, people thought he was 10 or 11. And while his size helped him in athletics, it did not come without a price.

His aunt, Kara Moss, whom he called “Auntie Mom,” said there were times, around age 10, when David thought about giving up basketball.

As the numbers on the scale continued to rise — nearly 200 pounds by age 10 and climbing fast — David struggled to move as fast as his friends. Classmates began to tease him about his size, and their words, like needles to a pin cushion, hit David’s heart.

“I had to give him the hard truth sometimes,” Kara recalled. “He was always going to be bigger, and he was competing with boys that were half his size. If he really wanted to compete with them, he had to go compete.”

As David approached his teenage years, Kara’s words stuck and he slowly realized he could do something about his weight.

“Once that lightbulb came on, it never turned off,” Kara said.

The breaking point came just before high school.

“I just kind of saw it on my own,” David told the Journal-World. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh, he’s a monster, nobody can handle him.’ But then, I would see little things, like people running past me on the court, and I was just like, ‘This is not going to help me in the long run.’”

A Rising Freshman

Growing up, David played football and basketball, and also threw the shot put and discus. He nearly considered swimming at Norfolk Academy before choosing basketball.

In the summer of 2014, prior to his freshman year at Norfolk Academy, David attended a football camp at Duke University, where the coaches named him a “Rising Freshman” and begged Janine to keep her son interested in football.

“They just kept saying, ‘He’s wonderful. We love him. Make sure he keeps on point with those grades,’” recalled Janine, noting that her son never attended Duke’s basketball camp. “And I was like, ‘He’s only in the 8th grade.”


Current Kansas freshman David McCormack during his playing days at Norfolk (Va.) Academy, where he was the heaviest he had been in his life.

That he was. But his physical appearance suggested otherwise.

By that summer, David stood a shade over 6-foot-7 and weighed more than 300 pounds, well on his way to topping out just above 320.

“We had homestyle lunches every day,” Norfolk Academy basketball coach Eric Acra told the Journal-World. “And you can imagine a boy that big, walking into a place where it’s unlimited seconds, thirds, fourths, every day. He was really enjoying himself.”

Except that he wasn’t.

Sure, he liked to eat. But, eventually, all of those meals and unhealthy choices caught up with David, mentally as much as physically.

During his freshman and sophomore seasons at Norfolk Academy, David was a force on the court. He was not the explosive athlete he is today, but a load, nonetheless.

Acra, who also was David’s guidance counselor, liked that for the team, of course, but also fully supported David’s quest to get healthier.

“You couldn’t move him off the low block,” Acra recalled. “He was going to be an old-school, back-to-the-basket player. I didn’t want him to get too thin too quick and lose that aspect of his game, but, by the end of his freshman year, it was clear he was determined to see how good he could be.”

What began with David walking “sort of side to side because he grew so fast” and initially included pool workouts consisting only of high-knee kicks, quickly became an all-out assault on losing weight and getting lean.

If his final year at Norfolk Academy laid the groundwork for David’s lifestyle change, the move to Oak Hill opened the door to a whole new way of attacking his transformation.

“He went to college early in that sense,” Acra said. “And he needed that.”

Added Janine: “David did it all on his own. They didn’t give him a plan or anything like that. He was like, ‘No. I’ve got to feel better going up and down this court. I’ve got to be healthier.’ And he just started eating better and working out more.”

The heavy lifting

From devouring slices of cheesecake to wolfing down second helpings at lunch and dinner, one thing David was good at, long before he became a nationally recruited, 4-star basketball prospect, was eating.

“The boy loved to eat,” said Aunt Kara.

David did not dispute those words, but also smiled when reflecting back on the sacrifices he made to reshape his body and gain control of his cravings.


The move to Oak Hill Academy and the Team Loaded AAU program did wonders for the weight-loss journey that helped lead KU freshman David McCormack to Kansas.

“It was pretty difficult in the very beginning,” he said. “You would see people eating stuff that you’d want and you’d think, ‘Ah, I could really go for that.’ Cheesecake is probably still my kryptonite.”

There’s a funny story about David and his love of cheesecake. Beyond the fact that he still can’t resist the delectable dessert and actually punishes himself with suicide sprints for eating even the smallest slice, the timing of David’s weight-loss journey could not have been worse for his love of cheesecake.

“I remember him telling me one time that I never took him to Cheesecake Factory and I always took his brother,” Aunt Kara said. “So I promised to take him. But by that time he had pretty much given up cheesecake and then I felt really, really bad. He’d say, ‘What’s the point now? I don’t even eat it that much.’ But we went anyway and we enjoyed it. He still indulges from time to time. And I always tried to help him see that it’s not about starving yourself, it’s about finding balance.”

David began replacing junk food with healthy snacks and kale smoothies, which he always feared would taste like grass but discovered “were not as bad as I expected.”

In addition to cutting out sweets, David researched low-carb diets, lean proteins and replaced fast food with fresh fruits and vegetables. He cut out red meat, ate a lot of shrimp, fish and chicken, and found the dietary balance his aunt talked about.

His family took the journey with him, vowing to eat healthier and open their minds, and purses, to buying whatever groceries David needed.

His mom even began making his meals at home — carrots, baked chicken with the skin peeled off, salmon, tilapia and other fresh veggies — before picking him up from football practice so he could eat in the car and not have his meal prep time cut into his homework or sleep.

David took his workouts to a new level, as well.

He had a regular in the garage where he spent a ton of time and his mother and aunt routinely timed his planks and pushed him to do a few more reps on the exercise ball in the living room — not that he needed the nudge.

“He was like, ‘Go!’ And he’d do one, two, three, four, five things, and he would go on to the next thing and then the next thing,” Janine recalled. “When I say the sweat was pouring off of him, I mean it was pouring off.”


Kansas forward David McCormack (33) pulls a ball away from South Dakota guard Tyler Peterson (22) during the second half, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Although the biggest gains did not come until he left for Oak Hill, Acra saw firsthand the role that early gratification played in David being ready to make an even bigger jump once he left home.

“All of a sudden, he’s starting to V up from the waist up, and that’s a pretty cool thing to see when you look in the mirror,” Acra said. “He saw the results, he liked what he was doing and he said, ‘OK, I’m all-in. Let’s go.’”

The variety of David’s workouts — he even did ballet before school in 9th and 10th grade — and those rapid results fueled his dedication.

“I took to it pretty quickly,” he said. “I felt the difference after a couple months and I was like, ‘I like this feeling much better. It’s definitely helping me on and off the court.’”

David’s biggest weight drop came early in the process, when he lost around 40 pounds in two months.

“It was just me being very selective about what I ate,” he said. “When you know you’re putting the right things in your body, you know you’re going to get the results you want.”

Determined to succeed

Kansas strength coach Andrea Hudy remembers hearing David’s story.

Although the details were missing, she knew he had lost nearly 70 pounds in a short time and was impressed by the chiseled frame that stood in front of her the first time they met.

Hudy also knew, almost immediately, that David’s heavier frame had created tension in his body. What’s more, she quickly identified improved fluidity as one of her main goals for the KU freshman who now stands 6-10, 260 pounds.

“What’s impressive about Dave is his determination and his focus,” Hudy said. “If he wants something, he’s going to get it. All that progress, that’s Dave being Dave and him wanting to do well. He has a real intent for his future.”

There were signs of David’s dedication long before the results showed up in the mirror.

In March of 2018, a week before he was to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta, David’s Grandma Daisy passed away. Her funeral was five days before the game, and rather than sulking or complaining about unfair timing, David took the grin-and-bear-it approach.

“Mom, I’ve got to do it. They’re not going to change the date of the game for me,’” Janine remembered her son telling her. “So we had the funeral and off we went.”

David scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the all-star game.

Through all of the hard work and sacrifice, before, during and after his transformation, David has maintained his determination.


Kansas forward David McCormack (33) celebrates a dunk by Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the second half of an exhibition, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“There were days when it was hard and he knew it would take more out of him personally and emotionally and spiritually than he’d ever imagined,” Aunt Kara said. “But it was never, ‘I want to give up.’”

Good thing, too, because others were watching.

A few months after David left for Kansas, Oak Hill coach Steve Smith caught up with current Oak Hill senior B.J. Mack, a former teammate of David’s who, like the KU freshman, was always on the heavier side.

Through his own hard work, Mack cut quite a bit of weight last summer and, one day, while Smith was praising Mack for his new physique, Mack’s father, Brian, quickly interjected.

“We’re on that David McCormack plan,” Brian Mack said, according to what Janine was told.

“I’m just so very proud of him,” Janine said of her son. “He’s been so disciplined, and for him to do all of that so far away from home, it’s just amazing. I’m a mom, so I worry. But to this day, every time I call and ask how his grades are or how his diet is or if he’s working hard enough, he’s like, ‘Mom, I’ve got it. I’m good. I have it all under control.’”


Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 5 months ago

His time will come, he just needs a serious one-on-one training in skills & drills. Even with the transformed body like that, if guards/coaches couldn't make plays for him, what's the use? He doesn't even rebound/box out that well. He needs to block like Lightfood, instead of playing volleyball. I think our coaching staff needs to work more diligently in developing individual skills, especially our bigs.

Joe Black 3 years, 5 months ago

WOW. Way to bring down an uplifting story. You must be great a social gatherings, you seem to be able to find the cloud in every silver lining.

Gerry Butler 3 years, 5 months ago

Ol Steve just seems to be an uplifting guy lol - - -I'm sure the Coach's know what their doing - -don't you worry Steve -I think I'll go with what the Coach's and Hudy have in mind for him - think they might just know a little more then you - but hey thanks for stopping by -have a great day

Dale Rogers 3 years, 5 months ago

He's a freshman who has had very little game time so far. He's similar to every other big at this point of experience. He'll get there.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm not patient - as you can see. But thanks Gerry, Dale - for the reminder that he's still a freshman and our coaching staff knows what to do with him!!!

Brett McCabe 3 years, 5 months ago

Great young man with great spirit and great focus. Nothing will stop him. He's going to be like T-Rob before he's done, relentless, powerful and efficient.

Jim Stauffer 3 years, 5 months ago

Mostly, I see a very bright kid who is determined to improve. He may or may not have as much in natural skill as some, but will exceed most due to drive and discipline. Great kid! His patience may be his strongest asset.

David Robinett 3 years, 5 months ago

Driven. Love it.

David, bring us NC #6 and I’ll buy you a whole cheesecake!

Andy Tweedy 3 years, 5 months ago

Great story, love the kid and his effort! But kale sucks!!!

Gary McCullough 3 years, 5 months ago

Great story, but it makes me feel lazy for allowing my weight to creep up over the years. But, then again, I'm not a 5-star basketball recruit, and never will be. LOL

Brad Watson 3 years, 5 months ago

I love this kid....he is my favorite young player...he has a motor....he brings great effort and he has the IT factor...whatever IT is...he has IT......lots of development still needs to be made in every part of his game......but from what I have seen....I believe he has the heart and determination to see it through to reality...when he is on the floor......I am watching him.......looking for improvement....evaluating his game......slowly his minutes are increasing...he is getting more comfortable and the game is slowing down in his all I can say is.......LOOK OUT........this kid is going to be really good?...and how soon?...we will see.........good things happen to people who give it everything they have...Great work ethic always leads to success ...we need him this Saturday to play his best basketball to date...I have confidence that he will do just that....Great Article!!!!!!!.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 5 months ago

great story. love to hear the back story for alot of our players.

[''] 3 years, 5 months ago

Hard working, team-focused, great teammate. And a freshman. Vick, a senior, could learn alot from all the freshman.

Armen Kurdian 3 years, 5 months ago

Now that's a great story. He's got so much room to grow as a player and improve, and now is being asked to a lot more than what we originally expected early on. He sounds like someone who improves by being tested, and kudos for him for that kind of discipline to get his weight down. I love cheesecake too, but it takes me three different dinners to get through one piece of Cheesecake factory cheesecake...

He's going to be with us for at least three years...the offense is going to revolve around him next year, he reminds me of Withey...not that much as a freshman, but a beast by the time he left.

Jay Scott 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm not sure Withey is the best comparison. Very different players.

Damian Glaze 3 years, 5 months ago

Great story. The biggest thing I think he needs to work on from here is agility and quickness. This article explains A LOT about what we currently see on the court. Still a little clumsy on lateral movement and out of control on straight line movement. But in the short time here he has gotten much, much better.

One excellent possibility I am predicting - Danny Manning is likely to get laid off after this season. He will make his way back to Lawrence to transform David into another Darnell Jackson or maybe even another Thomas Robinson. One can only hope.

Jay Scott 3 years, 5 months ago

Manning signed a 6 year extension in Nov 2017. That was surprising. It seems like they believe in him. They way they're getting whacked this year, who knows?

Dee Shaw 3 years, 5 months ago

David to me is extremely raw but his ceiling has no limit. I have had the opportunity to sit court side at Allan Fieldhouse and to see David size is impressive. A BIG man. I can’t wait to see what he looks like his junior and senior year. He will be a monster. I like the comparison to Thomas Robinson. Keep pressing forward David.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.