Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
By Tom Hendrixson
Huelsman starting and contributing in great start for 10-2 Dayton
DAYTON - It was a packed University of Dayton Arena with its usual 13,000 or so fans already raising the noise level to window shaking decibels even before the game started.
It was the 124th time that the University of Miami Redhawks had played the University of Dayton Flyers in a college basketball game when the two teams renewed their traditional rivalry last week.
It was the 11th college game of Kurt Huelsman's career.
Just another typical night of Division I college basketball for the 6-foot-10 freshman, who graduated from St. Henry High School just last year, and has not waited long to make his presence felt in the storied Flyer basketball program.
Huelsman, averaging 4.0 points and 3.9 rebounds, has started all of UD's games this year at center, and he set a freshman shot-blocking record in his first regular season game of the season, swatting away four field-goal attempts against Austin Peay. He also pulled down nine rebounds that game and is currently the team's second leading rebounder and second best shot blocker.
"Defense and rebounding are two of the main reasons I'm here," said Huelsman, following an exciting 56-54 win over the Redhawks that had upped his team's impressive start to 10-1, before Dayton dropped a road loss to nationally-ranked Pittsburgh three days later.
"I work hard to do the little things that might be overlooked, like things we post on the hustle board, things like rebounds and deflections. That's the stuff I try and do," explained Huelsman.
"I think things are only going to get better (for him)," said Flyers head coach Brian Gregory, now in his fourth year at the helm. "He's got such a bright future. It's scary at times, what he does in practice. Now he has to continue that and gain the confidence to do that consistently during the game. I think people see him as a surprise with the amount of minutes he's playing and the role he's playing as a freshman, but it's not surprising to us at all."
It probably isn't surprising to any St. Henry basketball fans that saw him play either. As a senior, Huelsman was named first team Division III All-Ohio Player of the Year while averaging 15.9 points and nine rebounds a game. Despite being the only starter back from a 20-3 team, he helped lead his team to the regional semi-Finals. During St. Henry's state championship season when Huelsman was only a sophomore, he recorded a double-double, 12 points and 11 rebounds, and was named as the MVP of the state tournament.
Despite his impressive high school numbers, the Flyers knew it would be essential for Huelsman to be stronger in order to play at the college level, and the likeable pivot man tackled the task with his usual determination and added 20 pounds of muscle weight prior to Dayton's opening practice.
"They really worked with me to help me build up so I could be stronger and faster," said Huelsman. "It's really paid off because everybody up here is bigger, stronger and faster than what I saw at the high school level. By now I've pretty much gotten used to this level of competition, but during that first game I could really tell the difference, but I was holding my own. I was doing all right, but now I'm getting a better feel for it with every game."
After a strong start this season, Huelsman was held scoreless during the two games prior to the Miami contest. He scored four points against the Red Hawks that night, but his teammates and coaches are helping the youngster through the rough patch.
"I've been in a bit of a slump," said Huelsman. "But coach told me that everything will be fine and will work out. I just have to keep my head up and don't look at the negative. You just have to look at the positive."
You can't get much more positive than the Flyers' head coach.
"I'm sure there are times, as freshman starter, that he feels a little bit overwhelmed," said Gregory. "He hadn't played real well over the previous two games, but he doesn't have to look over his shoulder. He's our starting center. He earned that and he earns it everyday in practice. It's not just about performance in games. He gives us a solid presence in the post that we can build on over the next four years."
Huelsman is already building for the future.....like the very next game.
"My personal goals go along with our team goals," he commented. "The team goal is to get better with every game, whether you win or lose. Just because you win a game doesn't mean you get better and in some of those wins, I didn't play very well and that's something I work on after every game."
Huelsman and his 10-2 Flyer teammates face another challenge this Sunday, taking on another nationally-ranked team traveling to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina. The Tar Heels are currently ranked as the number-two team in the land.
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