Santiago Vescovi recited his perfect Cook Out order with a smile and without hesitation in late October.
The Tennessee basketball guard builds a tray around a big double burger with lettuce, tomato and mayo. He picks a bacon ranch wrap and white cheddar cheese bites as his sides. A banana pudding milkshake completes his guilty pleasure.
It’s an order Vescovi honed through his first two years in Knoxville, when he ate at the regional fast food joint regularly.
Vescovi hasn’t placed that order in at least six months, part of an offseason overhaul of his habits.
“The biggest thing was probably my mindset toward eating healthy,” Vescovi said. “That had a big impact on my whole body and the whole way I play right now.”
There is a common refrain regarding Vescovi around the Tennessee basketball program lately.
He’s different entering his junior year, his teammates and coach Rick Barnes say. He has been labeled the most improved player on the roster and the player ready to make a leap. They describe a quicker, shiftier and more dynamic version of Vescovi.
“He has gotten his body in shape,” junior guard Josiah-Jordan James said. “His game is the best that I have ever seen it offensively and defensively. I think he is definitely in for a big season.”
Vescovi dismisses the notion he has changed or improved more than any of his teammates. He’s quick to deflect to their work over his.
If he has to talk about himself, he says the change started by going home to Uruguay.
His mother, Laura Vannett, is an advocate for healthy eating and has preached to him the need to eat food that helps give his body fuel. His dad, Pablo Vescovi, reads articles about professional basketball and soccer players catering their diets to their specific needs.
“He told me all that and said I needed to eat right to see a big improvement,” said Vescovi, who averaged 8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a sophomore.
Playing for Uruguay
Vescovi got an up-close look at what his parents preached to him later in the summer.
He played with the Uruguayan national team in late June and early July as it competed for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics. He was the youngest player on the roster and lone member not playing professionally.
Vescovi noticed his teammates had good eating habits and avoided junk food.
“I was like if they are doing it, they are playing pro and they are in great shape, I need to give it a try,” said Vescovi, who has been a starter at UT since he arrived midseason in December 2019.
Vescovi averaged 10.5 points in 23 minutes per game in Uruguay’s two qualifying games against Turkey and the Czech Republic. But what he gained off the court was more valuable.
He observed the way his teammates ate, especially guard Bruno Fitipaldo. The 30-year-old Fitipaldo is comparable to Vescovi in stature and the Vols guard said they move similarly on the court.
Fitipaldo, Vescovi said, has “super low body fat.” He asked the veteran guard, who currently plays in Spain, about his diet and habits.
“It is pretty well-known back home that he has a pretty strict diet,” Vescovi said. “He doesn’t have cheat days. He is really into it. That is what it has taken for him to be in the shape he is right now.”
Putting it into action
Vescovi returned to Knoxville with a desire to improve away from the court to affect his ability on it.
He sought to cut out junk food, especially friend and processed foods. He reads ingredient lists on the back of packages and pays attention to the sugar and fat contents. He has eliminated soda and picks either water or sparkling water to drink.
“Your body needs fuel and if you give it the wrong fuel, it is not going to perform at the best level,” Vescovi said. “If you do give it the right fuel, you will start seeing changes in your body.”
Vescovi’s typical day features cereal and a breakfast wrap, then eating whatever healthy food is available after practice and workouts for lunch and dinner. He tends to include salads with his choices. If he dines out, he enjoys Tropical Smoothie or Moe’s — shunning the side of chips.
Vescovi’s body fat is down to approximately 7%, but he lost only a couple pounds.
“I am eating healthy and my body is changing, but I haven’t lost a lot of weight,” Vescovi said. “My body is transforming from the fat I had from eating junk food to actual muscle. That is letting me do better on the court physically.”
Vescovi recognizes he is more explosive now. He feels different moving with the ball and without it, as well as defensively. It took making some serious changes to his eating habits to do it, but Vescovi feels it was a necessary sacrifice — even if he occasionally misses Cook Out.
“I see the whole change my body has made with working out and eating healthy and I think it is worth it — even though I miss it,” Vescovi said. “It is better than going back to eating junk food.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.