Growing up in Westchester County, New York, Golden State Warriors rookie Eric Paschall was singularly focused on hooping. “I was always outside shooting around,” he says. At age 12, he threw down his first dunk, thanks in large part to some friendly let’s see how high we can jump squareoffs with good friend and current Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell.
Then, Paschall’s game was more skinny-kid-on-a-pogo-stick than impervious-mass-of-granite—his reputation nowadays. Paschall only began lifting weights in his senior year of high school, which is far later than usual for many pro prospects. Yes, the 6’6”, 255-pound Warriors rookie really, truly didn’t hit the bench press until his teenage years were almost kaput.
Paschall clearly (and quickly) made up for lost time, though he did endure an adjustment period, especially after he transferred from Fordham to Villanova following his freshman year of college. He essentially had to learn how to properly navigate the weight room, while also working on his core—another part of his body he had previously neglected.
A second-round draft pick this past summer, Paschall wasn’t expected to have a major impact in his inaugural season, particularly since he plays with Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and D’Angelo Russell (plus Klay Thompson, whenever he returns from a torn ACL). But then Curry broke his hand, Green and Russell got banged up, and the Warriors went from postseason contenders to proooooobably building for next year. And no one has emerged as a stronger building block than Paschall, who’s logging heavy minutes and averaging 17 points per game (including two 30-plus point efforts). His most impressive, everyone-get-out-of-my-way performance came in a victory against the Blazers: he converted the game-clinching putback dunk that had the Warriors’ broadcast team referring to him as “beast mode.” (High praise, given that former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, famously from the Bay Area, is the originator of the “beast mode” nickname.)
Shortly before catching a movie with his teammates on a rare off-day earlier this week, Paschall chatted with GQ about his whirlwind NBA transition, his increasingly meticulous diet, and his undying love of sparkling water.
GQ: I was reading a Mercury News story that noted your struggles when you first got to Villanova—that you were, in your own estimation, out of shape. What went into changing that?
Eric Paschall: What happened was I hurt my ankle at a Fordham practice my freshman year, and I started getting out of shape, eating bad things. Once I got to Villanova, it was like a complete 180 that summer, in terms of how to eat and how to condition your body. That’s something I took a lot of pride in. I saw what that could do to my body and also how it made me feel. My strength and conditioning coach did a great job of teaching me.
I also hadn’t done core work before. I started doing a lot of heavy lifting and cardio. At Villanova, we didn’t really do conditioning; our cardio was open gym, which made me lose a lot of weight really fast.
You said you were lifting heavy weights—how’d you stack up to your teammates? You played with some pretty talented guys.
Oh, I was lifting the heaviest. Once I started gaining muscle, I would lift the most by far. It wasn’t really a competition, but people definitely tried to lift the same weights as me.
So you were by far the strongest player at Villanova. What about in the Warriors weight room?
I don’t lift the same way I did at Villanova, so I actually don’t know yet.
Probably a smart, diplomatic response given that you play with a bunch of all-stars you don’t want to piss off.
[Laughs] No, I honestly don’t know! We haven’t done any really heavy weights. One day it’ll happen.
What did you work on over the summer leading up to this season?
During pre-draft prep, I was working out with my agency, CAA, and Don MacLean, a former NBA player who was helping me. He made sure I was in good shape. I signed up for something called Sunfare, which is a meal delivery service, to assist with my diet.
Nowadays, I don’t do the meal delivery service, because the Warriors cook for us. I just eat whatever the chef makes. We always have a brunch before we get on the plane to travel, so for that, I try to have a bacon, egg, and cheese, or turkey bacon, or maybe some chicken meatballs. If it’s a game day, I’ll eat some light carbs, but otherwise, I’ll stay away from them, because I don’t digest them as well. I’m pretty disciplined about that stuff. After practice, they’ll usually make us something like salmon with broccoli and squash. If you want carbs they have sweet potatoes—lighter stuff.
Honestly though, I was a picky eater growing up. When I was younger, I loved french fries. As I got older, I started to expand my palate a lot more, and I’ve gotten better at avoiding certain foods. There are healthy alternatives to everything now, so I’m always looking for those.
How have you adjusted to the NBA grind? Do you feel like you’ve settled into a routine yet?
No, I wouldn’t say I’ve totally settled in. It’s something I’m still dealing with, especially the back-to-back games and all of that. But I feel like I’m adjusting well; as long as you hydrate properly, that helps a lot. I used to be a Gatorade guy, but now I drink a lot of water—especially sparkling water. I’m really big on sparkling water. I have a lot of that in my house. I don’t know why some people don’t like it, I think it’s great.
Also, I tend to recover really fast, so more recently, I started lifting before games. And the day after a game, instead of just sitting around, I want to get some sort of workout in to sweat and get my blood flowing. There are a lot of little things that I’ve learned about my body over the years.
I know you came into the league as a strong dude, but I have to imagine it’s still jarring figuring out whether you’re capable of physically matching up against other NBA players. Was there a moment in a game when you realized, Oh, I can do this?
I actually came in on day one feeling like I could hold my own. But there was a moment guarding LeBron, he was bumping me a little bit and I didn’t fall back as much as I thought I would. To be clear, there were also a few times when I thought, Alright, LeBron is pretty strong. Steven Adams is really strong too. But I do feel like I belong.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Real-Life Diet is a series in which GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and everyone in-between about their diets and exercise routines: what's worked, what hasn't, and where they're still improving. Keep in mind, what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
When he’s not chatting with a three-dimensional Blue and fending off Twitter thirst, Dela Cruz is eating vegan and doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Originally Appeared on GQ