Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Local Basketball Legend Is Honored - Again

Thanks to Keenan Mann
for the guest post!
Today's special guest post comes from area hoops legend, Keenan Mann. Before beginning his current career, he earned a Masters in Business Administration from Georgia Regents University, where he also earned his undergraduate business degree. Keenan also played basketball at GRU and is one of only 3 Jaguars to have his jersey retired. A four year starter, Keenan is the school's third all time leading scorer. He played high school basketball at Richmond Academy.

On October 8th, Michael Curry, a friend of mine, will be inducted into the Augusta City Classic Hall of Fame. This honor is just the latest in what has become an ever expanding list of similar gestures commemorating his contributions and accomplishments.

‘Curry’, as we called him back in the day, played his high school basketball at Glenn Hills (1982 - 1986). In 2005 the school retired his jersey and in 2014 they named the new school gymnasium in his honor.

He received a full scholarship to play at Georgia Southern University (1986 - 1990). Ten years later, the school retired his jersey and inducted him into their Hall of Fame.

After graduating, on time, with a business degree, he began what would be a very successful professional basketball career that would begin in Europe and end in the NBA.

After 15 years of playing professionally (and earning a Master’s degree in his spare time) he began a career as a coach in the NBA. He served as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons for one year before becoming the head coach a year later in 2008. He also served as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers for three years beginning in 2010.

After 6 years of coaching the pros and taking 1 year off, Mike headed to the college ranks to become the head coach of the Florida Atlantic University Men’s Basketball Program. This season will mark his second at the school. And based on the footprints he’s left at Glenn Hills and Georgia Southern, I can almost predict what will happen when he finally puts down his whistle and clipboard.

If all of that sounds like the beginning of a pre-induction speech, that’s good - because it is.

Well, kind of anyway.

I’m not making a speech on the 8th. Mike has a long list of people more appropriate for the occasion and task. And besides that, I won’t be at the ceremony because I promised myself after I got married that the next time I wore a tuxedo would be to the wedding of one of my children - if even then. But if I were there and if I had been asked to make Mike’s induction speech, I would have started it just like I did above.

Here’s how I would continue…..

Having known Mike for well over twenty-five years now, I can easily sum his character for you. He’s funny but no-nonsense. Tough but kindhearted. Super intelligent but simple thinking.

But back before I knew him, I knew of him. He was already a bit of a legend when he was 17 or 18. I’d heard about him through my high school teammate and good friend, Chuck Graham. Chuck’s name may be lost to history now, but In the late 80’s in the Augusta area, there was none more prominent on the high school scene. He was a starter as a freshman on a very good Richmond Academy team. Incidentally, while Chuck was starting on varsity as a ninth grader, I was getting my first year of high school basketball under my belt warming the bench (initially) as a 10th grader - on the jayvee team.

Anyway, one of the guards on the varsity team was named Alexx. Chuck related the story of how Curry had posterized (dunked on in a most degrading manner) Alexx. The description was graphic, but time has left the once vivid picture I had formed in my mind fragmented. I can only recall now that Alexx’s chest and glasses as well as Curry’s foot featured prominently in Chuck’s retelling of the story.

That was my introduction to Curry. Watch out he will dunk on you.

I didn’t play varsity basketball until my junior year, so I never played against or met Mike while I was in high school. I did meet him after my senior year though as we played lots of pickup basketball together.

It was after one of those games while I was marveling at something Mike had done on the court, that Gerald White, one of the three guys most responsible for my own (meager) basketball accomplishments, told me that Mike was not very good when he was younger. I think Gerald actually said he was “kind of goofy and uncoordinated”.

So I learned a lot about Mike through stories that were passed down. But the most powerful things I learned - the things that have stuck with me- are the things I saw with my own two eyes.

First, Mike was an absolute comedian, but in the strangest way. He turned that comedy into leadership. He could make the most serious issue funny as hell. By serious I mean having to do with winning a pickup game. And to an 18-26 year old pickup basketball player, nothing is more serious than getting to 8 or 10 first. It was nothing for Mike to ask a pickup teammate who had been repeatedly beaten by an opposing player a question like, “what’s wrong, you didn’t get enough sleep last night?” or “if I switch teams, will you let me score four in a row like that?” I’m sure the written words don’t convey just how funny these exchanges were. Mike was deadly serious and usually upset, but the delivery of the question/criticism, which was always straight faced and deadpanned, was hilarious, disarming, and most of all, effective. The people who played with Mike got better. And so did people like me who usually had to play against him.

I bet in 4 years worth of pickup games I wasn’t on his team twice and I had to guard him most of the time. I hated it, but it was the best thing for me in hindsight. He went hard all the time and I had to do the same or risk embarrassment.

Another thing I noticed (and this is part comedy and part mystery) was that Mike was a freak of nature. He had long arms, huge feet, could run all day, and had absolutely gigantic hands. In fact his hands were so big that one day during a lunch break at a clinic we were conducting at May Park, William “Six” Cunningham turned to Mike just as he was about to bite into a Big Mac and said, “ooh, you’re making that hamburger look like a sausage biscuit”. It was so true and it still cracks me up. Anyway, with all those physical attributes, I found it quite notable that Mike wasn’t “a leaper”. I mean he could jump but It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. That said, I don’t think there was anybody in the gym he didn’t dunk on. And if there was it was because they got out of the way or wisely broke off pursuit when what was about to happen became obvious.

The pickup games were always intense because people like Mike refused to let the intensity level drop off. When the energy level did start to wane, I can remember Mike wanting everybody to pick it back up so we could play one more. We usually did.

Often times, after the pickup was over, Mike would want to shoot “10s” or something like that. I was right there with him. So were a few others.

So it doesn’t surprise me at all that Mike has done what he’s done basketball wise. And it also doesn’t surprise me that an organization like the Augusta City Classic would single him out for recognition. But, knowing what I know about his character, I think it would have been just as likely that he would have succeeded and been duly recognized on the same kind of level had he chosen a non-sports life path. Cream has a tendency to rise to the top, as they say.

But there are always naysayers. And I’ve borne witness to some of Mike’s detractors. I’ve actually been around when people have said, “he got lucky”. They were being negative, of course. But the more I think about it, they were right. He was lucky.

He was lucky he worked so damned hard all the time. He was lucky he was such a competitor. And he was lucky that he wasn’t a quitter. Because the more he worked, and the harder he competed, and the longer he hung in there, the luckier he got.

I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing the plan all those years ago was not to be in multiple Halls of Fame. Yet, here he is. And it is well deserved.

Congrats Mike.

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