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Kyle Tarp’s passion, enthusiasm has brought strength to Maryland for over a decade

Tarp has been with the program for 13 years and worked under three coaches.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

A stroll through the ground level of the XFINITY Center features a direct path from the visiting locker room to the tunnel that leads to the court. But in between those two fixtures, on the left-hand side, are two doors that lead to Maryland basketball’s weight room.

It might as well read Kyle Tarp’s sanctuary. Tarp, the director of basketball performance for Maryland men’s basketball, has made that weight room, and the corner office in it, his second home for the last 12 years.

Prior to any practice, as the players strut out of the tunnel onto the floor, before the group huddles at center court and Willard and his staff address the team, Tarp is the first face they see.

Every player picks a spot on the baseline facing Tarp, who bounces around in the paint and around the free throw line. He walks them through a stretching routine that, at this point in the season, they’ve done hundreds of times.

Some players look lethargic, others disengaged, either because they really are tired, or just tired of the routine. But Tarp wakes them up. He too has gone through this routine thousands of times, but every time he stands in front of the players, it’s like an audition.

Tarp, a former college cornerback at UC Davis, moves from player to player like he just downed three shots of 5-hour Energy. A high-five to one guy, a chest bump to another and a playful push to a different player. But he didn’t just consume an energy booster. His enthusiasm and passion are natural.

Tarp did, kind of, have an audition this past off-season. When Mark Turgeon and Maryland parted ways last season, and there was complete turnover on the coaching staff, Tarp’s future at Maryland was uncertain. He had worked under Gary Williams for one season as the assistant director of basketball performance after a stint as an intern at Texas. The next year — Turgeon’s first year as head coach — the assistant label was dropped.

Tarp held the position throughout Turgeon’s entire tenure. So, when Kevin Willard was hired last March, Willard had a decision to make.

Willard said he had conversations with Turgeon about Tarp in which Turgeon “raved” about him.

“I wanted to give them both [Tarp, along with head athletic trainer Matt Charvat] a chance because they both have families. They’ve both been here and put a lot of work into this program,” Willard said. “I just told Kyle, ‘I want to take this year to evaluate you and see what you guys are all about.’”

That evaluation period didn’t last an entire year. Not even close.

“Kyle has great energy. He really understands weightlifting from a basketball perspective,” Willard said. “Getting to know them in a very quick time in the first month, watching Kyle with the weights and see how he interacted with the guys, how the guys interacted with him, it was almost a no-brainer to keep him on.”

The culture Tarp created in the weight room aligned with the culture Willard was attempting to install upon his arrival. No one finishes a lift until everyone finishes a lift. Encouragement, teamwork, and perseverance are some of the many qualities needed to thrive in a Tarp-run weight room.

Tarp is listed as the director of basketball performance on Maryland athletics’ website, and that’s for a reason. He takes exception to his title solely being strength and conditioning coach, like it is for so many programs around the country. Tarp’s focus is much greater than lifting weights. He takes a holistic approach to improve players’ bodies and minds, and thus, their performance.

Tarp works with athletes on their nutrition and recovery. If someone needs to be stretched at halftime of a game, Tarp will do it while donning a black suit and a tie — an unusual look for someone who’s usually seen around the facility in a tight-fitted shirt and shorts. Whatever his players and the team need to improve performance, he will get done.

Not only is he energetic and relatable, but Tarp is methodical.

His desk, and entire office, is filled with notebooks and gadgets designed to help player performance. Tarp is constantly learning and working on ways to improve his system.

He has guys wear a thin vest during practice and games that tracks player movement and can quantify how much effort a player is giving, among other things.

“I want to be consistent with the drivers of function, gravity, ground reaction, integrated movement, like those are true, right?” Tarp said.

Sure, right. Tarp continues discussing the intricacies of movement, injury prevention and player performance. It’s the kind of thing only someone who studies this stuff and immerses themselves in it would understand.

Tarp’s passion for his work radiates to everyone he’s around. He loves what he does, and he loves bestowing the intel he gathers onto his players to make them the best athletes they can possibly be. That’s what drives Tarp.

“To see a guy get closer to his dreams and to know that you have a small part in that journey, that is the most rewarding thing,” Tarp said.

Tarp looks the part: bald, buff, and carrying an unassailable energy that would make a bystander want to run through a brick wall.

Tarp laughs when I remind him he’s withstood multiple coaching changes and has worked under three head coaches — a rarity that speaks to the respect Tarp has earned throughout the country.

“It’s funny, you get so locked into the day to day that I haven’t really taken a macro look at it,” Tarp said.

But there’s a reason he’s outpaced everyone else in the program as the longest tenured coach on the men’s staff, while other programs attempt to pry him away.

Tarp has an uncanny ability to relate to his players, which is why both his former and current guys respond to him and respect him.

“He’s somebody who tries to push me as best as he could,” senior forward Donta Scott said. “[Tarp] pushes me to better my body and better myself.”

Scott lost close to 30 pounds and trimmed 7% body fat heading into this season, and his play reflected that. Tarp was the man behind the transformation. Of course, Scott put in the work, but Tarp’s plan for Scott helped get his body to where he wanted it. Tarp is constantly tailoring diets and workouts to accommodate individual needs.

“What’s going to work for Jalen Smith is going to be a totally different approach than what worked for Bruno Fernando or Donta Scott,” Tarp said.

Tarp has nurtured many of the legends associated with Maryland basketball. His work with the players directly translates to on-court success at the collegiate and professional level.

“I love seeing these guys have success,” Tarp said. “There’s no first team all-Big Ten strength coach, our success is our players success and our team’s success.”

But Tarp’s idea of success isn’t averaging 20 points per game at the next level. He instills values through physical performance that go way beyond basketball.

“A lot of guys can be pros, but can you be a pro’s pro,” Tarp said. “Can you … do things the right way and impact your community, be an energy giver to your team, make your organization better.”

Tarp’s players love him, and he loves them back. “GOAT,” Kevin Huerter commented on a video of Tarp mic’d up in the weight room from 2021. “A perfectionist,” Aaron Wiggins commented. “One of a kind,” Eric Ayala wrote. “The f*cking best ever,” Bruno Fernando chimed in.

Back in 2015, Maryland star Jake Layman told the Baltimore Sun “I don’t think anyone studies his profession more than he does.” Layman is one of the many NBA players Tarp groomed to help his body get ready for the next level. Layman was drafted in 2016 and has carved out a seven-year career in the NBA.

“I think I’ve always clicked with guys because they know one, I’m going to work my ass off for them and I’m going to be consistent,” Tarp said. “If I’m asking them to bust their tail in here, they got to know I’m in here busting my butt too.”

“I think guys can develop a bit of a trust level with me because I’m never gonna throw a guy under the bus,” Tarp continued. “I’m going to protect my guys always. … I’m going to stand in front of the bullets when they’re flying.”

Players joke with him that he’s always moving. He’s never in one place for too long, jumping around the weight room or the court to check in on every player — no matter the talent level of the player.

Except there’s one place he’s stayed: Maryland. The XFINITY Center has been his second home for over a decade. Players come and go, and some exhibit their Maryland pride long after their gone. But Tarp lives his every day.

“I love Maryland. I love my job and I’m gonna show it,” Tarp said.

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