When Anton Currie showed up for his first day of practice last year with the University of Toledo basketball team, the 17-year-old freshman was 6-6, but weighed just 184 pounds.
Currie's slender body wasn't ready for the everyday banging that goes along with playing against Division I-A competition, so coach Stan Joplin redshirted him.
“There's just no way he could have played,” Joplin said yesterday.
Joplin's decision to sit Currie for a season appears to be paying dividends. Currie has grown two inches since last season and is now 6-8. And he's added 20 pounds, pushing his weight to 204.
“Sitting out last year helped me a lot,” Currie said. “Just lifting weights and being able to practice with the team every day and travel with the guys helped me mature as a player.”
Even so, Currie got off to a slow start this season.
In the first four games, he made just 3 of 8 shots and scored seven points while playing 37 minutes off the bench. In the past two games, he has made 9 of 15 shots, including three 3-pointers, for 22 points in 38 minutes.
“At the beginning of the year, I really didn't look to score,” Currie said. “I was mainly just playing defense and trying to lock up the other team's best player. Now I'm just starting to find my comfort level. I'm being more aggressive, I'm learning the offense and everything is starting to flow smoothly.”
Currie scored a career-high 12 points and had three rebounds and three steals while playing a career-high 24 minutes Saturday as the Rockets upset East Division favorite Ohio 78-71 in their Mid-American Conference opener.
Eight days ago, he had 10 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes as Toledo held on to beat Siena 59-55.
“He's kind of the wild card for us,” Joplin said. “He can do a lot of things. He can play forward or he can play guard. We put him on [Ohio starting forward] Brandon Hunter and he played on the perimeter some, too. That's a lot of flexibility to have.
“Anton missed some shots earlier in the year and I just told him to keep shooting. He's done a nice job. He brings some energy and athletic ability to our lineup. He's going to be pushing for more playing time and eventually might start.”
Joplin, though, admits he wasn't counting on this kind of production from Currie so soon. Currie, who won't turn 19 until April, skipped a grade during his junior high days in Okemos, Mich., because of academics.
“I thought next year would be the year he would have to step in and play a lot, but he's kind of accelerated the process,” Joplin said. “He's a year ahead of schedule.”
Currie and the Rockets (3-3) will be shooting for their third consecutive victory tonight against Wright State (4-1) in a nonconference game in Fairborn, Ohio.
The Raiders, who have beaten MAC teams Akron (78-75) and Miami (51-48) already, suffered their first loss Saturday, falling on the road 66-59 to Ball State.
Wright State is led in scoring by 6-8 junior forward Seth Doliboa at 23.4 points per game. He's a transfer from Bowling Green. Senior guard Tyson Freeman (9.4 points per game) from Scott also starts for the Raiders, who compete in the Horizon League.
“They have a bunch of good shooters, so we have to respect their shot,” Currie said. “And we've got to keep playing like we've been playing. Defense first, and let the shots come.”