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Seven thousand calories a day didn't work.

Shawn Bradley, the Philadelphia 76ers' gangly, 7-6 center, said he struggled with the concept of consuming six, seven or eight meals a day to help prepare for this season, his first in the NBA.Yes, he knew he desperately needed to gain weight and strength, that the Sixers wanted him up 20 to 25 pounds, approaching 260 in time for next season. But wasn't there, he seemed to be pleading, another way?

"I always felt as if force-feeding wasn't natural," said Bradley, taking a break from a meeting with Dr. Thomas Deters, the Weider Nutrition Group representative who holds degrees in human biology and sociology and chiropractic.

"I felt as if I was shoving it into my body, and my body wasn't handling it. It was almost as if it were rejecting it, as if it were a disease or something like that."

That is why Bradley is working on a specialized nutrition and training program with Deters, who is also involved in the publishing of fitness and bodybuilding magazines. And it is why Bradley - before leaving this week on a honeymoon with his wife, Annette - had been training in Utah for several weeks with Lee Haney, an eight-time former Mr. Olympia hired by Sixers owner Harold Katz.

Bradley, who saw his weight plummet below 240 as he was recovering from surgery to repair a dislocated left kneecap during the season, has gained more than 10 pounds. He said that, if the Sixers had qualified for the NBA playoffs, he probably could have played "limited minutes."

But gaining strength and weight has remained a more difficult issue for Bradley, the No. 2 pick in last year's draft who signed an eight-year, $44.28 million contract.

The Sixers, in concert with strength and conditioning consultant Pat Croce, had tried to build Bradley up with a 7,000-calorie-a-day regimen. It did not work, said Croce, because Bradley simply did not follow the plans carefully designed by Jeanie Subach, a registered dietitian who has done similar work for boxer Razor Ruddock.

Katz said he has "no problem with Croce or Bradley."

"Right now, with Haney, I have the right guy for Shawn," Katz said. "Obviously, Shawn feels the same way. They're both ecstatic. But I don't feel Croce did anything wrong."

Neither, of course, does Croce.

"Shawn never got to 6,000 calories," Croce said. "We'd give him the menus, he'd end up eating fast food. He'd say, `Pat, I had free coupons.' "

Croce said that both Subach and Croce's wife, Diane, took Annette Bradley through a supermarket, explaining the types and quantities of food necessary for her husband. Pat Croce and Subach believe that those instructions were never followed. He said he has not heard from Shawn Bradley for more than three weeks.

"Before Shawn was married (last September), when he lived with a Mormon family in Devon, I cooked a week's worth of food for him, delivered it," Subach said. "Sometimes he'd eat a quarter of what was in a container. He'd go away for a weekend, come back 3 pounds lighter. We gave him the program. He didn't do it."

Haney, who carries no degrees in nutrition or physical training, cut Bradley's intake back to 5,000 calories, supplementing that with amino acids that break down into protein and, Croce said, "supposedly build muscle."

"I'm not a biochemist, I don't know the repercussions of using amino acids and growth stimulants," Croce said. "The biochemist I use doesn't recommend them. I don't play that game. There are a lot of `magic' pills out there, but I don't know the effect they might have on the kidneys or the liver. I believe that, if you eat properly, you don't need more protein."

Haney said his expertise comes from "on-the-job training," including working with boxer Evander Holyfield and Atlanta Hawks forward-center Kevin Willis.

"If (Bradley) can add 9 to 10 pounds a month," Haney said, "that's great."

With Haney, Bradley was doing a 45-minute weight-training program five days a week, taking Wednesdays and Sundays off. On Mondays and Thursdays, he worked on running, what Haney termed "interval and explosive training."

"And he eats," Haney said, laughing.