Big Freshman Could Be Big Addition To Tiger Team

Dwayne Curtis can officially be a big man on campus for the Tigers playing center for Coach Cliff Ellis' basketball team.

Auburn, Ala.--Dwayne Curtis is seriously eager to get his college basketball career started. Considering the circumstances, any other sentiment would be a major surprise.

It has been nearly a year since the six-foot-nine inch center played an official game. The big freshman's wait is expected to be over soon because he will join the Auburn team for his first college practice on Thursday in Las Vegas where the Tigers will be making preparations for a Saturday game (11:30 p.m. CST on ESPN, 9:30 p.m. Las Vegas time) vs. UNLV.

"I believe it was Jan. 28th when I hurt my foot so I haven't played a game since then," says Curtis, who has been given the nickname "Big Baby" by former Auburn forward Mack McGadney as well as his new teammates because of his size and youth. "I broke the fifth metatarsal, but it is fine now," Curtis says.

The injury ended his senior season at Whitney Young High School in Chicago. After a lengthy rehab, he was expected to enroll at Auburn as a true freshman in August. However, one of his high school classes was not approved as a core course by the NCAA Clearinghouse. That meant he could not enroll at Auburn as a scholarship athlete until he made a higher score on his ACT to gain freshman eligibility for the second semester of the 2003-2004 academic year.

Curtis took care of his academic business this fall while taking classes at AU as a part-time student. He also worked part-time at a local bookstore in Auburn while his teammates were preparing for the season and jumping out to a 7-0 start going into Saturday night's road test vs. UNLV.

Dwayne Curtis should give the Tigers needed depth at the center position.

The freshman isn't sure when he will actually see any game action. "That is really hard to say," says Curtis, who due to NCAA rules has not been allowed to practice with the team until he is considered a full-time student at AU. That happens after fall semester final exams end. "I guess how quickly I play depends on how quickly I get a feel for what is going on," he notes.

Watching the Tigers this season, Curtis says he has noticed the team is developing a good chemistry. "I am going to try to fit in as well as I can," he says. "I like the guard play and Marco and Kyle are playing good at power forward and center. The only thing I can see for myself this season is being a role player. I am going to try to fit in with the team."

Curtis says that conditioning shouldn't be a problem because he has been working out hard since he arrived in Auburn last summer. He has played pickup games with his future teammates and runs every evening

Curtis will be the biggest player on the court for the Tigers. He currently checks in at 280 pounds. "I did weigh 305, but I have been working hard to drop some weight," he says. "I am trying to get down to at least 265. I can tell the difference. I am quicker now."

"Big Baby" isn't the only nickname Curtis has developed. "They call me Elton Brand-clone," says the freshman, who admits to modeling his game after former Duke star and current NBA player Elton Brand. "I love Elton Brand," he says with a grin. Brand is averaging 19 points per game for his pro career. Back home in Chicago, Curtis is also known to friends as "Big Boy" and "Big Dukie."

Curtis will be flying to Las Vegas and will practice on UNLV's campus. Cliff Ellis says he is pleased that Curtis will be able to join the team on Thursday. "He certainly is going to be a good player," the Auburn coach says. "He is going to help us on the block, give us depth. It is going to take him a little time and we are going to take it a day at a time with him because our team is pretty much set in the rotation right now, but I know there is going to be a time when we can call on him."

Curtis averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game as a high school senior. Ellis says that the post player has a chance to put up good numbers at some point in his college career.

"In my opinion, I think he is going to have a great career at Auburn," Ellis says. "He is going to have to have some practice time, I'm sure. I'll be very surprised if he can go out there day one and make a strong statement. It would be very unusual. It would be great if he could, but I think we have just got to start with the basics and get him to where he understands a basic offense and our basic defense and then go form there. It will be good to have him though--I can tell you that."

Junior forward Brandon Robinson says that Curtis got his nickname "because he is big and he is a little Shaq baby" in style of play on the court in reference to NBA star Shaq O'Neal. Robinson says he is excited for Curtis that the freshman is now eligible to practice and play in games. "He is a good dude," says Robinson, who notes that Curtis has been serious about his academic work this past semester.

"I am not going to speak too much about his game," Robinson adds. "I don't want everybody to know how he plays. I just want everybody to see how he plays. Me personally--he's a good guy, I'll just leave it at that."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Point guard Lewis Monroe predicts that Auburn fans will enjoy watching Curtis develop. Senior center Kyle Davis notes that the freshman has a good offensive post game. Power forward Marco Killingsworth says that Curtis has a nice shooting touch. Brandon Robinson predicts that Curtis will have growing pains adjusting to college basketball, but says that before Curtis leaves AU he will be a "big-time, major contributor."...Curtis admits that his late start as a college basketball player has been "frustrating." He says, "In high school I worked my butt trying to get where I thought I was going to be, but I ended up getting turned down" on being ruled a freshman qualifier. The center says that getting behind as a sophomore was his biggest problem academically, but is now set to be successful as a college student.

Lewis Monroe does rehab on Tuesday night while Dwayne Curtis (right) awaits his chance to join the Auburn team. Monroe hopes to be back in action shortly after Christmas. He suffered a fractured bone in his foot during preseason drills.

Curtis says he decided to come to Auburn because he wanted to get away from home to attend college, he likes the warm weather in the South and was interested in playing for Coach Cliff Ellis and his staff that includes Tracy Dildy, a native of Chicago who recruited Curtis for the Tigers...Commenting on his style of play, Curtis says, "The best thing I do on offense is score in the post. I like to take the 15-foot jump shot. I work on my shot a lot."

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