LINCOLN — They go at it from time to time, as fathers and sons will do when there’s a basketball available and a place to compete.
Aaron Curry Sr., the former Oklahoma basketball star, has the advantage in height and experience. Aaron Jr., the Nebraska defensive tackle, owns the edge with muscle and youth.
“He says take it easy, because he’s getting too old,” said the 6-foot-1, 280-pound Aaron Jr. “I bang him a little bit.”
Aaron Jr. once dreamed of doing the same for some college basketball program, until his body started growing into its current proportions. The more he grew out instead of up — into a lineman instead of a shooting guard or small forward — the more it became apparent that football was his future.
“Oh, man, I was the best,” he said, smiling. “I got the best 3-point shot. I still beat my dad in H-O-R-S-E. He beats me sometimes, but I’ll come back and beat him.”
The son isn’t totally exaggerating. He put years into developing his shot and ball-handling, with the help of his father, who saw his OU team’s best NCAA tournament run stopped two steps shy of the 1979 Final Four by Larry Bird and Indiana State.
“If you’d see him just shooting around ... he’s got the form, he’s got the rotation, he’s got everything,” said Aaron Curry Sr. “It might be a little different now after he’s done all that lifting, but he can still shoot it.”
Any small wins over dad are significant because Aaron Sr. could play a little himself.
The 6-4 guard was a four-year regular who made 75 starts for OU and head coach Dave Bliss from 1976 through 1980, playing on a Big Eight championship team as a junior. That was the same season that the Sooners advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing 93-72 to Indiana State in Cincinnati.
Curry averaged 15.1 points as a senior and finished with 1,237 for his career — still ranking No. 20 on the Sooners’ all-time scoring chart — then was a third-round NBA draft pick by the New Jersey Nets in 1980.
For the longest time, that kind of stuff was the allure for Aaron Jr., too.
“I loved basketball,” he said. “I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps.”
The dream crash-landed when he was a sophomore or junior at Fossil Ridge High in Keller, Texas. He kept playing until his senior year, however, because it helped with his footwork and he loved the game.
Panthers football coach Tony Baccarini waited him out. Baccarini said the staff at the Texas 5-A school even encourages athletes to play other sports to help them become more well-rounded.
“They just overall do better by doing more things,” Baccarini said. “We have a bunch of kids that played both. They miss the offseason (football workouts), so it’s give and take. But at least they’re part of a competitive team, where teamwork matters, and they don’t lose their edge.
“He just had to be mature about getting his weights in alone. Being a defensive lineman, you have to get that stuff in.”
When basketball finally gave way to football, Curry said, his father was more than understanding.
“He wanted me to play basketball, but I was a lot better at football, so he was supportive of me,” he said. “He’s my No. 1 fan.”
There was a time when Aaron Curry Sr. had to choose between the two sports, too. His son joked that he picked basketball for a different reason.
“He did play football in high school, but he said it was too much contact,” Aaron Curry Jr. said. “He said he didn’t like all that contact and physicality, so he just went to basketball. He just likes to shoot.”
The younger Curry has moved on to tackling ballcarriers and tangling with offensive linemen. He saw some snaps as a true freshman last season — appearing in four nonconference games and registering three tackles — and is going through spring practice taking his reps with the No. 1 defense.
With Baker Steinkuhler and Chase Rome gone from last season, and Thad Randle out for the spring, Curry recognizes the opportunity staring him in the face.
“I’m improving. I think it’s going well,” he said. “I put in the hard work, and it’s paying off for me. I’m going to continue doing that, and we’ll see where it gets me.”
Curry lacks the size of some other NU tackles — namely 6-3, 325-pound Vincent Valentine — so he often leans on the quickness and footwork that helped him on the basketball court.
He also has benefited from focusing on his technique with NU assistant Rick Kaczenski and getting a better grasp of the Husker defensive system.
“It’s not an easy playbook or easy scheme,” Curry said, “but studying it a lot has put me in the right positions to make plays and help my other teammates.”
Besides picking a different sport than his father, Aaron Jr. also chose a school that happened to be a former Big Eight rival of OU’s. They drove past the Devaney Center during his recruiting visit, and Curry said his dad joked that “he didn’t like Nebraska that much.”
Aaron Curry Sr. played on Sooner teams that went just 5-7 against Joe Cipriano-coached Nebraska squads, but he actually grew up in Buffalo and knew more about NU than OU before heading to Norman.
“To tell you the truth, I liked the Nebraska football team and I remember Johnny Rodgers,” Curry Sr. said. “I didn’t feel bad, because I knew they had a good program.”
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