NEW PALESTINE — Former Indiana Pacers star and basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miller made a living cutting, curling and spotting up on the basketball court. Through every small sliver of space, whether it be off a screen or in front of a defender, Miller saw an opportunity for an open jump shot.
Ryan Curry was one of the thousands of young boys in the Hoosier State who grew up in awe of Miller and his shot-making.
Curry and his father, Sean, spent many afternoon-turned-evenings in the family’s driveway, first forming Ryan’s shooting motion. Sean then modified his court role into a passer as Ryan channeled Reggie, running off imaginary picks, catching the ball in rhythm and letting it fly. Sometimes the younger Curry would stay out so late his neighbors would ask the young hoopster to call it a night, lest they lose shut-eye over the sound of Curry’s swishes.
“I liked Reggie Miller. He was fun to watch,” Curry said. “That’s what I was always picturing in the driveway, coming off the screens that he got, pulling up and shooting. He seemed like he made a lot.”
Miller did make his fair share of shots, retiring as the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made in 2005.
Curry, a New Palestine junior, also filled up the scoring column this winter, scoring 350 points – more than anyone else in Hancock County. And after a first-team All-Hancock County selection as a sophomore, Curry was selected the Daily Reporter’s 2013-14 Player of the Year in voting by coaches and media.
The Dragons’ high-scoring combo guard is joined on the first team by Mt. Vernon senior CJ Coleman, Eastern Hancock senior Isaiah McCormick, Eastern Hancock junior Derrik Noel and Greenfield-Central sophomore Tate Hall.
Curry’s high school career began as a 5-foot-7, 135-pound freshman on NP’s junior varsity squad. He saw action in 11 varsity games for the 2011-12 sectional champion Dragons, scoring a grand total of 12 points.
With the graduation of senior bucket-getters Josh Penley, Reid Clark and Brandon Collins, Curry knew he was going to be counted on to knock down shots in a complimentary role to senior-to-be Michael Morris the following season.
That’s exactly what Curry did.
As a sophomore – having grown to 5-11 and adding 25 pounds – Curry averaged 11.1 points per game on 42 percent shooting. Curry made 40 percent of his 146 3-point attempts, converted 84 percent of his free throws and cracked the 20-point barrier on five occasions. New Palestine finished 15-6, losing a 71-70 thriller to Center Grove in its sectional opener.
With Morris, a two-time county player of the year, graduating, Curry and NP coach Adam Barton knew Curry’s position on the team’s totem pole was trending upward. The changing of the guard was so clear that coach and player didn’t even need to discuss it last summer.
“I think it was pretty obvious to everybody,” said Barton, the Dragons’ coach since 2005. “He dressed varsity as a freshman and he was the little kid we put in the corner, the 5-foot-5 kid we put in with a couple minutes left to get a 3-point shot.
“He got a little bigger his sophomore year, but kind of had the opportunity with Michael where he got to play off of Michael. I guess if there was a conversation last year it was, ‘You can’t just stand and shoot like you’ve done your freshman and sophomore years. You’re going to have to be able to take the ball to the basket.’”
Unfortunately, around this time last year Curry broke the middle finger on his left hand. He needed surgery and wound up sidelined through June.
“He had zero time with us in our summer leagues,” Barton said. “And I think that slowed him down a little bit, just having to be our No. 1 guy. He had to start (being our No. 1 option) in November instead of being able to start in June.”
Despite the bad break, Curry, now 6-2 and 190 pounds, proved more than ready for the start of his junior campaign.
In New Palestine’s first seven games, Curry averaged 21 points on 45 percent shooting. By the red and white’s fifth game, Curry had already taken more 2-pointers than he had in his entire varsity career.
Just as his childhood idol and his former teammate eventually developed their games and became more than spot-up shooters, Curry had done the same by taking his game to the paint.
“I worked out with Michael some over the summer so I could see how he did that,” Curry said his newfound off-the-dribble skills. “I worked off that.”
But much like the Dragons’ season, Curry’s shooting was up and down after a scorching start. He still put up numbers, scoring 20 or more points four additional times and finished the season with a 16.7 ppg average – second-best in the county behind Coleman (20.5) – but shot over 40 percent only three times in NP’s final 14 games.
As the season wore on, Curry began to notice just how popular of a draw he had become to opposing defenses.
“It was very different because there were times where I would walk across halfcourt and the (defender) would be there with me,” Curry said. “That was a lot different than last year because last year they would help off when Michael drove and he’d kick it out to me. This year if I drove, there was at least one person on me, if not two. That was a big difference.”
On March 4, Curry & Co. lost their sectional opener for the second year in a row, falling 47-44 to Franklin. In their final three defeats, the Dragons (10-11) lost by three, two and three points. NP alternated two wins and two losses in its final eight games.
When the subject of his team’s final game is broached, Curry’s frustration is evident – and understandably so, as NP turned the ball over 18 times vs. Franklin, one miscue shy of its season high.
“It seemed like every time in the last two minutes we just always threw it away or we would get outplayed,” Curry said. “The ball just didn’t roll our way. Coach would say we have to make our luck. We just didn’t get those lucky loose balls or anything, it just seems like they all went to (the other team). That really killed because we always lost by three or so in the last minute.”
Barton agreed with the thought that Curry grew fatigued at certain points of the season.
“I think there were stretches where he got tired – in the middle of games and during stretches in our season. … There were times where he got tired and it definitely was taxing on his body, mentally and physically,” Barton said. “Every single night he was key to what we were going to do offensively. We knew that and our opponents knew that as well.”
Still, Curry’s improvement was evident. He more than doubled his rebounding average (1.9 per game to 4.5) despite New Palestine often starting three players 6-4 or taller. He raised his assist and steal numbers. He leveled out his 2-pointer to 3-pointer ratio from 15 percent 2-pointers, 85 percent 3-pointers in 2012-13 to 46 percent 2s and 54 percent 3s in 2013-14.
The next step in Curry’s growth is meshing his driving skills and his shooting touch, while adding a few new wrinkles.
“When a kid’s just a 3-point shooter and you say, ‘You’ve got to make sure you go to the basket,’ well, there were times where he just went to the basket and he went as far in as he could get,” Barton said. “I think from that, he learned and I learned that he’s got some options where he can clear space in some different ways. So, he’s going to have three or four options, and maybe even some options to post some people up next year with the strength that he’s shown.
“People have to get up in him because he’s such a good outside shooter. He just takes a jab step, and we know now he can go to the rim and finish. They’ve got to give him credit for that and they’re going to have to step off. And that’s something that, I think if he would’ve had that last summer, we would’ve been able to incorporate it a little bit more. I think that’s the next step, and that’s the cool thing about having him for another year.”
The new moves mean more nights on the family driveway, not that Curry has any problem with that.
“I’m taller now so if I jab somebody off I can shoot it,” he said. “Hopefully I can get a little taller and do that more because that was Michael’s favorite move. Take that jab, step back and shoot it.”
Just like Reggie.