Ruot Monyyong wanted to put on some weight.
The 6-10 UALR forward felt he needed more muscle to truly compete in the paint, despite earning Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors last season.
Monyyong hit the gym hard in the offseason, and he began drinking protein shakes routinely.
He also ate. Then he ate some more.
He stood at 218 pounds in August, up more than 15 pounds from the end of last season and a significant jump from the 190 pounds he was listed at in the media guide before his junior year.
Monyyong was in the best shape of his life.
Later that month, he tested positive for covid-19. Monyyong's transformational work was washed away.
"When I came back from having covid-19, it was the most out of shape I ever felt," he said. "I didn't think I'd ever get back into shape. It was bad."
In late August and into September, Monyyong struggled through team stretches. Warm-up drills left him drained. Running a simple three-man weave was often too much.
"It was rough, man," he said. "I couldn't get up and down the court."
Monyyong's conditioning and strength returned before the November start to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock season, and he has very much looked the part of the preseason conference player of the year. The senior is averaging 13.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, and he has recorded seven double-doubles.
His new muscle was on display last weekend at Louisiana-Lafayette. In a pair of games, he dominated while battling Louisiana-Lafayette's Theo Akwuba in the paint, posting 18.0 points and 14.5 rebounds in back-to-back performances that earned him Sun Belt player of the week recognition.
"He's just stepped up this year," senior guard Ben Coupet Jr. said. "He's playing way more aggressive. He's playing way harder. He did that last year, but this is another level that he's gotten to."
Monyyong was effective last year after transferring from Shelton State (Ala.) Community College, averaging 11.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in 31 starts as the Trojans sailed to a regular-season conference title.
This season, he's added more to his game than just muscle.
Monyyong has shown a knack for mid-range shooting while upping his overall shooting percentage from 56.9% to 65.1%.
He's also improved as a passer, often dishing to fellow forward Nikola Maric or finding cutters such as Coupet and Kris Bankston on their way to the hoop.
But Monyyong remains a force on defense. He's a disruptor whether he's getting his hand on the ball (1.5 block per game) or using his length as a help defender. He often alters shots without blocking them, which makes life easier for his teammates.
"He makes up for a lot of mistakes on the defensive end," Coupet said.
He's also made up some physicality over the past year, which has helped the Trojans (7-4, 3-1) jump to a one game edge in the Sun Belt West Division.
"I saw him get hit a few times this weekend," Coupet said. "I don't think last year he could have taken those hits and still played. He's tougher now."