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O’Brien: Landers Nolley transfers, but future is bright for Curie

It took 23 years for Curie coach Mike Oliver to build the Condors into a state championship winner. After the victory in the Class 4A state title game last week he choked up a little thinking back on the scope of the project.

“It was hard,” Oliver said. “I’m an alumni of Curie. I know where the program was at. I would have done this for free. I always wanted Curie to be mentioned as a powerhouse of basketball.”

Oliver has his wish. The Condors are now a state-title winning program, an accomplishment that forever elevates a basketball program.

“I told our guys the only thing that separated us from the powerhouses was that we had never been [to state],” Oliver Now we have experience, we know how to win and we know how to win the big one. That was the knock on Curie, never able to win the big one.”

The immediate future is very bright for the Condors. Historically, very few teams have won a big school state basketball title with such a young team. Devin Gage, the team’s top player, was the only senior that played significant minutes.

Curie could begin next season as the area’s top-ranked team.

“We have a chance to be real good next year,” Oliver said. We have a good sophomore group that’s going to move up. Losing Gage, that’s huge. But I think we have a good chance to come back down here next year.”

Junior Elijah Joiner will step into Gage’s shoes as the leader and go-to scorer. He has the potential to be the best player in the city next season.

“I think I’ll be able to handle [replacing Gage],” Joiner said. “With the team that we have coming back next year I think we’ll be pretty good. I’ll be able to carry them and they’ll help me as well.”

Treavon Martin, a 6-7 sophomore, improved throughout the season. He scored 10 points and had 14 rebounds in the the title game. His brother, 6-7 sophomore Tyree Martin, is expected to make a bigger contribution next year. The Martin’s will pair with 6-5 Terry Smith Jr., who was one of the most consistent rebounders in the state this past season.

Allante Pickens, a 5-9 junior, was one of the key factors in Curie’s title run this season. He’s a terrific shooter and displayed a surprisingly polished all-around floor game.

Oliver expects several members of the sophomore team to step up and make an immediate contribution on varsity next season. He cited guards Demarco Grahman and Trevon Hamilton and wing Lamont Wilson as the most likely to make an impact.

While Gage is the only loss to graduation, the Condors have lost some other significant pieces. Landers Nolley II, a sophomore shooting guard that played like a future high-major college star this season, is moving back to Atlanta. Nolley transferred to Curie last summer.

Michael Johnson, a junior guard that transferred to Curie from DePaul Prep, played major minutes during the season but wasn’t on Curie’s roster for the state playoffs. He left the team and his status for next season is uncertain.

Morgan Park would be the other major candidate for preseason No. 1 honors. The Mustangs return dynamic sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu, who should become a star. Guards Cam Irvin, Cortez Bailey and Lamond Johnson are also back. Morgan Park has a ton of size returning with 6-7 Melo Burrell, 6-7 Malik Binns and 6-9 Lenell Henry.

As always, expect the Mustangs to reload with a few talented transfers. The quality of those transfers will likely determine which team begins the season on top.