By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Every basketball team faces an adjustment period heading into a new season, whether it’s dealing with new or different personnel, or in the Aurora Houn’ Dawgs’ case – a new coach.
Dylan Curtis takes over as Aurora boys’ head basketball coach in 2017-18, replacing Daniel Cutbirth, who led the Houn’ Dawgs to a district title game each of the past two seasons. In 2015-16, Aurora took Glendale to double-overtime before falling 68-66 and finishing 19-10. Last season, the Houn’ Dawgs advanced to the Class 4, District 10 championship game, but came up short against Webb City, 64-41, to finish 14-12.
“Any time you take over a program, there is going to be a learning period,” Curtis said, “new philosophy, new terminology, new style of play, etc. We may hit some bumps along the way, especially early, but if we will stick to the process, I firmly believe we will have a chance come February.”
The Houn’ Dawgs will need to first overcome the loss of first-team All-Big 8 Conference post player Preston Naylor; point guard Devin Hilton, an All-Big 8 honorable mention pick; Zac Shoemaker and Justis Mooneyham.
But Curtis likes what he sees in returning seniors Matt Miller, Austin Erickson and Clayton Dunning.
Miller is a forward who earned first-team All-Big 8 and first-team All-District honors last season. He averaged 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1 assist per game.
“Matt is a good inside-out player for us,” Curtis said. “He has good footwork that allows him to be successful around the rim and has a nice jump shot that keeps the defense honest. We feel Matt is one of the best players in our conference and district. We are looking to Matt for leadership and big production this season.”
Erickson, a guard, averaged 6.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game last year.
“Austin is another senior leader for us who started last season,” Curtis said. “He can really stretch the floor with his ability to knock down long-range shots. We will look for Austin to help keep the defense honest, as well as be a factor defensively.”
Dunning is a guard/forward who chipped in with 4.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 2016-17.
“Clayton played valuable minutes last season off the bench,” Curtis said. “He may be our best passer and is a good defender. We will look to him to help lead as a senior and up his numbers on the offensive end of the floor.”
In addition, the Houn’ Dawgs also have Kaden Clark, Casey Weatherman and Ryan Cline as returnees who look to contribute this season.
Clark is a junior forward who averaged 2.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg, has good size and saw some action as a sophomore.
“We will look for Kaden to rebound at a high level for us, and be able to finish around the rim on second-chance opportunities and post feeds,” Curtis said.
Weatherman is a junior guard who chipped in with 1.1 ppg and played some last year.
“We will be looking for Casey to have an expanded role this season and have more ballhandling duties,” Curtis said.
Cline is a sophomore guard who got into some games as a freshman. He suffered a knee injury during soccer season this fall, so his return is uncertain.
“If we can get him healthy, he will add depth at the guard position,” Curtis said of Cline.
Curtis also looks for newcomer junior guard Logan Lauffer to contribute this season.
“We are very excited for the upcoming season,” Curtis said. “We like the group of guys that we have coming back. They are a good group of young men that are enjoyable to be around and coach. We believe we have the potential to be successful this season if we will make our mission to get better every possession.
“We have the ability to be in the thick of things when it comes to our conference and district. We just have to be willing to do what it takes to prepare to win on a daily basis.”
Aurora opens the season Nov. 27 in the Clever Tournament.
“We are going to control what we can control and prepare each day with the objective of getting better,” Curtis said.