Curtis wants to go out on top

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Dwayne Curtis sat at a table in the middle of the conference room at SEC Media Day Wednesday. He was just a couple of hours up the road from where his college career began. But he's logged a lot of miles since the fall of 2003 when he arrived on the Plains.

The 6-foot-8, 280-pound Chicago native spent one season at Auburn, then transferred to Ole Miss and by rule had to sit out a year. He played a year for Rod Barnes, a losing season that was made much more sad by the fact that Curtis lost a brother in a car accident during the season.

Last year under a new staff, Curtis broke a bone in his foot in one of the team's first official practices. He missed some early action but recovered to help the Rebels to their first winning season in four years.

Then the last week of August this year, Curtis broke another bone in his foot. So the first question for Curtis here was not a surprising one.

"How's your foot?" reporters almost asked simultaneously.

"It's a lot better," said the soft-spoken senior center of the Rebels. "I'm practicing full-throttle. Everything's good."

Curtis admitted he's trying to move his game up a notch this year, even working toward being an outside threat.

"I worked on my ball-handling and my dribbling," said Curtis, who joins veteran seniors Jermey Parnell and Kenny Williams as strong frontliners for the Rebels this season.

"You'll probably see me shooting a little bit more this year, maybe even some 3s."

A more diverse Curtis with more options will help this team, a squad that's been assembled by Andy Kennedy and staff that will better fit the style the second-year UM head coach wants to play.

Curtis says that while the up and down tempo will likely produce more points, the coaches aren't allowing them to forget about defense. He says he's worked on that aspect of his game as well.

"Lateral movement, moving my feet, working on drills to help my defense," he said. "We do a lot of cone drills and a lot of different stuff to help us get better in that area."

The questions even for Curtis were often about the newcomers, of which the Rebels have about half a roster. The guards are mostly new, and the Rebels need for them to grow up in a hurry. Curtis says he's seeing that already.

"It's difficult for younger guys at first, but it's a lot easier when they come in and they really want it," he said. "I am seeing a lot of that from the new guys. They want to contribute and feel the success of winning. These new guys are hungry, and it's easier when they're like that."

Curtis says they are encouraged in practice.

"AK tells the guards to value the basketball," he said. "He tells them that over and over. They know what's expected of them. They're athletic and capable of doing a lot of things with the ball."

Curtis also says he understands his role as a leader of this team, and that Kennedy has challenged him and the other veteran frontcourt players to be ones the new guys can follow.

"He gives us challenges every day," Curtis said. "He encourages us to compete against each other to be the best frontline we can be. We challenge each other to be vocal leaders on and off the court. We know what we have to do."

Curtis said it had been a long time for him to taste those winning ways. But last year he and his teammates were able to do that. They plan to build on that again this season and hope to make it to the NCAA Tournament in March.

"It's very important for me to end my career here with a bang," he said. "It's been a long road for me to get to this point, different schools, different coaches. I just want to finish this up under AK, have another great year, and go out a winner."

Curtis said that will be good for this year's team and also for the future of the program.

"We talk about it every day," he said. "We want to put this program on a winning level. We definitely want to go out with a big year."

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