Dwayne Curtis hasn't had a lot to smile about lately.
The untimely accident in Illinois which resulted later in the death of his brother. A losing season. The departure of his head coach. The uncertainty surrounding whether assistant Tracy Dildy, the reason Dwayne is in Oxford in the first place, would stay on.
So Thursday after he found out Dildy was staying, Curtis smiled as he hadn't in weeks.
"I know he had a lot to think about these last couple of weeks, but I think it's great that he's staying," said Curtis, recruited to Auburn out of high school in Chicago when Dildy was an assistant with the Tigers; then both headed to Ole Miss at the end of the Cliff Ellis era on the plains. "He had mentioned to me that he might have the opportunity to stay. I knew he had a decision to make. I think he made the right one.
"I'm glad both Coach Dildy and Coach (Michael) White are staying," he said, still smiling. "I think that's great."
Unlike some other players who have different circumstances, Curtis' opportunity to leave to find yet another basketball program was limited. Already through three of five seasons of eligibility, Curtis' best option was to stay at Ole Miss. He only hoped Dildy would. He also hopes the other players will as well.
"I was probably going to be here next year anyway," said Curtis, the Rebels' leading scorer (13.6 points per game) and rebounder (7.6 rebounds per game) in 2005-06. "I need to develop as a player and also stay here in school. I'm not all that far from graduating, so I want to stay here and get it done."
Curtis said things are getting a little bit more back to normal as new head coach Andy Kennedy is in place, Dildy and White are staying, and the players have already begun their offseason workouts.
"It's a new beginning," said Curtis, who will be a junior in 2006-07. "Even though some players and staff are still here, it's different. So we're excited about getting things started again. Coach White has pretty much been instructing us in our workouts lately. We are working as hard as ever, going through the same workouts and being intense. It's good to know things are getting back to normal for us."
Other players are weighing their options. As reported on here yesterday, some know they will be back, like Curtis and senior guard Todd Abernethy. Others aren't sure, like senior guard Clarence Sanders and sophomore center Mike Smith. All seem to be weighing their options, mulling things over, evaluating what's best for them, and most of all giving it some more time.
"I'm pretty sure I'm staying," said sophomore forward Trey Hampton, who averaged nearly 15 minutes a game and played in all 30 of the Rebels' contests this past season. "I can't say for certain at this point, but I feel pretty sure I will be here. I want to see what's best for me and for my family back home. I have to weigh out everything."
Hampton, from Birmingham, Ala., had a connection with Kennedy in that the new Rebel head coach is a former UAB player and assistant coach. Although during Hampton's recruitment Kennedy was an assistant at Cincinnati, the fact that he has a Birmingham background is a positive for Hampton.
"That's a good thing, because it's not like we have a coach who is absolutely new to me," Hampton said. "He was talking to my parents back when I was in high school. So there is kind of a relationship there that we still had. I only remember him from Cincinnati, but I know he has a lot of Birmingham ties."
Hampton said he's also pleased the assistants are staying.
"That gives us some stability," he said. "There's not that feeling that the program's so broken down. I still feel like there is something there from my first year here. We're already getting ready for next season now with our individual workouts. There's not so much all that talk about who the next coach is or if the assistants will stay."
Senior guard Clarence Sanders, the second-leading scorer on the team this past season at 9.1 points per game, won't say if he's staying or leaving at this point. The juco transfer missed the Rebels' last two games this season. Sanders said that was his decision.
"It was all my decision," Sanders said. "I sat down and talked to the fellows and told them why I wasn't going. And I told the coaches. They agreed with what I was doing. They wanted me to go, but they told me they agreed with what I was doing."
Sanders wouldn't offer those reasons other than to say, "That's a long story."
He says he still isn't sure that he is going to be back next season, although he is participating in the offseason workouts like the rest of the players.
"I really haven't said one way or the other," Sanders said. "I'm really just trying to work on my school and finish the school year out. I'm personally just going to try to put everything behind me and make my decision in the next month and a half. Right now I don't know if I'm going to come back or if I'm going to leave."
Obviously there is a mixed bag when it comes to those who will definitely stay, those who will leave, and those who are still deciding.
One member of the program who wanted to stay all along and who now will be around again is White. He joined the staff two years ago, and he is pleased Kennedy is keeping him on board.
"I'm excited to be at Ole Miss," said White, who played for the Rebels from 1995-99. "Andy and I talked over the weekend a couple of times. I felt pretty good about it late in the weekend, and I felt really good about it Monday morning."
White says now that the decision has been made, it's full speed ahead, although as the interim head coach for a couple of weeks during the transition, the work never actually stopped.
"It's like a big weight's been lifted off my shoulders," said White, whose wife Kira, a former Lady Rebel volleyball player, is finishing her second year of law school at UM. "I'm relieved for my family, small as it is. But I also feel good for these kids. It gives them more answers. It means a couple of familiar faces will join them for the ride and will be willing to help them in any way necessary."
White says he and Kennedy have a history, and that they already start ahead of the game in that regard.
"I've known him for a number of years, with him being at UAB and me being at Jacksonville (Ala.) State," he said. "I would see him on the road and would speak to him or see him in a gym watching a player. It was good to go through the interview process here and answer some questions for him and get some feedback and also to give me a chance to ask him some questions."
White feels that players always have questions when a coaching change is made, and often some entertain thoughts of leaving. And of course some do.
But he also feels with himself and Dildy back, the chances of players staying increases at least some.
"It's always an issue with staff turnover," he said. "I think, and I hope, that this (he and Dildy staying) would limit that attrition."
The transition continues for men's hoops
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