Best friends depart from ball life

Basketball seniors from left to right: Guard Kyle Poerschke, Center Will Isaac, Guard Hunter Stevens, and Forward James Curtis. Isaac, Stevens and Curtis played for the Comets all four years of college, while Poerschke joined on this year. Photo by Vedant Sapra | Mercury Staff

The Comets celebrated a successful season and paid homage to seniors at the Homecoming game on Saturday, Feb. 18.

This senior bunch includes best friends Kyle Poerschke, Hunter Stevens, James Curtis and Will Isaac. Beyond their love for the sport, the seniors agree that the friendships they made with each other and the team are what was most rewarding about playing ball at UTD.

“I like to think that all of these guys are my sons…” Terry Butterfield, men’s basketball coach, said. “At the end of the day, I love these guys, and I appreciate all they’re doing to represent basketball. I find myself hugging the seniors a little harder these days because I know that their time is coming to an end, and they’re going to be missed.”

Kyle Poerschke

One of the Comets’ perks this year was receiving graduate guard and fifth-year basketball player Kyle Poerschke. Before transferring to UTD, Poerschke played basketball at Southwestern University for four years and was granted an extra year of eligibility when COVID hit. In the short time Poerschke was at UTD, he established himself as the team’s leading scorer, with an average of 16.7 points scored per game. Poerschke has dominated the school record for points made in a single game with 43 points at his peak.

“He’s a very talented kid and he sort of pulled us to a different level,” Butterfield said. “I think you couldn’t go far without talking about what a great contribution he’s made. He has the qualities of a strong leader because of his age, his experience and he’s a high performer on the floor, so our guys have embraced him, even though it’s his first year.”

Poerschke has been a shooter for as far back as he can remember; he picked up a basketball when he was five years old and never looked back. His dad, who played basketball for Arkansas and is even taller than Poerschke, coached him throughout his youth. Poerschke said he wasn’t that good in high school, but his coach helped him get recruited by Southwestern.

Curtis said that Poerschke fit into his new team at UTD instantly – like a “piece of a jigsaw from another puzzle that [fit] perfectly here.” The players knew Kyle as a decorated player from Southwestern who was a two-time ASC first team all-conference. And since playing at UTD, he has picked up other accolades, including ASC Player of the Week and Basketball Writers Association Division III National Player of the Week.

“I was totally open to whatever this team was gonna need,” Poerschke said. “I think that mentality really helped. As I stepped into a new team with new coaches, new teammates and things like having a good mindset and thinking, I’m just here to help, whatever that is.”

The coach and team both describe Poerschke as a man of high character and a “guy that never stops smiling.” Despite being the top scorer and a key to bountiful success this season — the Comets currently hold 20 wins — Kyle keeps it humble and lighthearted. In this way, he is similar to his favorite basketball player Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat.

“We talk about selflessness on the court, but I think this team is selfless off the court as well,” Poerschke said. “And you know, James and Hunter, those guys are my best friends, and we’re just goofy off the court as well, and I enjoy being goofy and keeping things positive. That’s been such a good aspect to the season as well — we’re not always so uptight and worried about the next game.”

Poerschke’s favorite memory is watching his teammates express joy when celebrating in the locker room after a big win. Ever since he noticed the coach doing this, he couldn’t help but pick up on it himself.

“This whole thing is hard to do, and sometimes it feels like it’s not worth it, especially at this level where you don’t really get a lot of recognition and at UTD people sometimes don’t even know that we have a basketball team,” Poerschke said. “But you know, that’s life. A lot of the times you’re gonna feel like what you’re doing in life has no real benefit, or you feel like you’re doing it and nobody’s noticing, … As long as you feel that it’s meaningful, it’s worth it to keep going and trying.”

Poerschke is an entrepreneur at heart and plans to continue building his golf apparel brand “Beaver Tail Gang” with his brother in addition to marketing for a company. He hopes to pick up other sports after graduation.

Hunter Stevens

Senior point guard and fourth-year basketball player Hunter Stevens embodies the spirit of selfless game-play. Playing basketball at UTD for his entire college career, Stevens leaves the program holding the record for fourth most assists in UTD history at 326. His four years as point guard found him excelling in this area and in defense. Butterfield often matches up Stevens against the opposing team’s leading perimeter players, since he understands the scheme of the team’s defense better than anyone else on the team.

“Versatility is really a key word when you describe him,” Butterfield said. “And I think that one of the things that also has made him special is he’s a very cerebral kid. I think he really has a mindset for the game … And defense is about real hard work and toughness. There are a lot of great guards in the league who can really shoot the ball, so we really depend on him to keep them from getting explosive.”

But Stevens wasn’t always so strategic. His sports story started in third grade when his older brother introduced him to basketball and had him play on his team. Stevens played pretty much every sport growing up but decided to specialize in basketball in high school, where he was eventually recruited to UTD and turned down a full scholarship from Division II Colorado School of Mines.

“It’s just been a great team,” Stevens said. “All the guys have always been good family, and we’ve gotten along really well. So, it’s been a good place for me to stay, and I’ve never even considered leaving to go somewhere else. Now it’s crazy to see it’s been four years and I’m about to get out of here. It’s been a really good experience.”

When he joined as a freshman, Butterfield had him try on different roles as a shooting guard and point guard – whatever was needed. Stevens proved himself reliable, getting the job done in any role he was placed in. It’s this reliability and his quiet confidence that made him a stable force and an anchor for the team.

“He’s a real consistent kid,” Butterfield said. “He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. I think the consistency of his personality and of his character has really been a shining light for our guys.”

Stevens favorite thing to do on the court is make smooth passes, but aside from his impressive assist streak, Stevens has earned accolades such as third team All-ASC, two Academic All-District honors by CoSIDA and Academic All-ASC.

“You miss out on a lot when we’re practicing every day and doing workouts over the summer and traveling all the time,” Stevens said. “You give up a lot to do this, and obviously we all think it’s well worth it because we’re still here, but it is definitely a sacrifice. And I think that’s something you have to accept early or else you’re not gonna to make it very far. I’m just thankful to be able to do something that I love and to have had fun while doing it.”

A fond memory Stevens will hold with him is getting announced with his teammates, high-fiving and hugging the guys at the beginning of each game. Like the other seniors, he values the friendships he’s made on the team above all else.

“[James, Willie and I] have known each other a long time, and I think living together freshman year with them was the good catalyst for the friendship we’ve created over this time,” Stevens said. “Everybody has a specific relationship with each other as well as just being a part of the greater team. So there’s no black sheep, if you will, that’s not really our culture.”

Outside of basketball, Stevens enjoys playing multiple musical instruments, including guitar, keyboard and drums. He plans to continue jamming out after graduation while working as a hardware engineer at Celestica, addressing the mechanical and thermal side of designing electrical hardware systems.

James Curtis

No one holds the Comets together like senior forward James Curtis. Curtis played with the Comets for four years, where he established himself as a trusted force among his teammates and someone that’s willing to do “the little things” to contribute to the group’s overall success like boxing out and making rebounds. Curtis was on the ASC Distinguished Scholar Athlete Team Last year and is a two-time Academic All-ASC selection. Where Curtis really excels at though, is leading and being the “glue” of the group.

“James Curtis is going to be either the mayor or the governor or somebody special going forward because he is really a people person,” Butterfield said. “He’s wise beyond his years. He understands how to bring people together. He’s a lot like me, he’s not afraid to scream and yell and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I’d say he’s our emotional center.”

Curtis started playing basketball when he was five in a youth league. He’d been tall for a long time, so it felt natural to try his hand at the game. He grew up with Isaac and Stevens in the same region of Austin, where he’ knew Isaac since middle school and was cordial friends with Stevens since ninth grade. When it came time to choose universities, he turned down an offer at MIT to study math at UTD and play ball.

“Like Hunter, I was recruited by a couple of different schools, but I feel in love with the campus,” Curtis said. “I didn’t realize it was this beautiful, that the classrooms and facilities were this nice. I’d been playing with Will for a long time, and against Hunter for a lot of years. I know these guys were going to come to UTD and I was sort of set.”

Butterfield said Curtis is the first leader he’d go to demand accountability for game-play from the team because of how engaging he is and how much influence he has with his teammates. Curtis has a way with words and guys on the team trust his rationale.

“I like guys that are loud and boisterous and bringing high energy all the time,” Butterfield said. “I think in this day and age, guys like him are few and far between. In our culture today, guys want to be low-key. They don’t want to ruffle tail feathers and they don’t want to call people out. You have to have that guy who’s going to step up to group and say ‘hey, we can do better’, and that’s James. That’s one of his greatest assets and charms — that he’s not afraid to be himself.”

Curtis tries to model his game after Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, who he said is similar to him: tall and unathletic but still successful at basketball.

“I try to bring as much positive energy as I possibly can,” Curtis said. “And that sort of started my freshman year. Like I said, I was getting maybe one minute a game, but I think that my presence was definitely still felt by the team. The leadership we had our freshman year taught me there’s no shame in finding niches on the court. I hope we’re showing that to the young guys now.”

There were too many favorite memories from Curtis’s time playing basketball at UTD to choose just one, so he went with a genre. Curtis hasn’t laughed so hard in his life like when he’s grabbing a meal with the guys or traveling on the road. There’s a revolving funniest player every season — Curtis thinks that this year it was freshman forward Austin Page.

“I couldn’t imagine being a part of something this special for four years,” Curtis said “It’s a dream come true, 100%. As a kid, playing college basketball was huge. I’d stay up late thinking about at night. And to be able to do that has been a huge honor and a huge privilege. And with these guys by my side, it’s been worth it every step of the way. I love these guys with all my heart and the coaching staff and everybody affiliated with UTD Athletics. It has just been an incredible experience.”

Curtis [loves places great value on spending quality with people he loves] plans to start a full-time role at Citi Bank doing data analytics after graduation.

Will Isaac

Standing at 6 feet 10 inches, senior center Will Isaac is the tallest player Butterfield has seen on the team since his tenure at UTD. His natural gifts mean that he’s built for blocking, and he’s had the ability to change a game on any given night. Isaac holds the record for fourth most blocked shots in the program’s history with a total of 67 and holds a forte with offensive rebounds and defense. An inquisitive guy, Isaac is invested in understanding the dynamics of the team, which has helped with his leadership for this term.

“Will is more of an inside guy, that’s where we count on him to do the bulk of his work,” Butterfield said. “When he’s playing his best, he’s really helping with team with situations around the basket. That’s his special gift … He’s become more of a mature and seasoned player who’s able to move onto the next play better if the last play wasn’t so good.”

Isaac’s origin story is similar to Curtis’s but with a slight twist. Isaac had always been tall, but he was actually interested in football – not basketball – as a kid. Eventually, he reached a point where he was too tall for football and could harm his knees attempting to play the sport, so he switched to the ball life in sixth grade. That’s where he first met Curtis, and the rest is history.

“I feel much more confident about myself now compared to my freshman year,” Isaac said. “I can just do those things that tall people are good at. I feel like us being in a leadership position, we can help those younger guys through that time that we were being through in our freshman year and help them be more confident and be able to succeed at the college level.”

The basketball players Isaac tries to resemble his gameplay after is Dikembe Mutombo, who was known for blocking shots and playing defense.

“It wouldn’t be worth doing this kind of thing where if it was easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun,” Isaac said. “So being disciplined and doing practice every single day for two three hours, you get so many good memories from the guys you surround yourself with. It’s been completely worth it having a four-year career here. And it’s super easy to get along with everybody and we all just cheer each other on. This year’s been the most fun and we had a great opportunity to continue it and win the conference tournament. and even play in the March Madness tournament.”

Like Curtis, Isaac has a favorite genre of memory: celebrating with the team after a game well-played. The guys are a lively bunch and it shows in how they come together to support one another, showering each other with water, jumping up and down and making noise.

“I think the message I want to leave other students with is just find something that you love doing and find people that you enjoy doing with and stick with that,” Isaac said. “And don’t over-focus on one area, ’cause if you focus on that area, you’re gonna miss the bigger picture. Like, if we were just focused on basketball, we wouldn’t have recognized all the relationships we’ve been building through it. So take it all in like you’re here at UTD to have a good time and make some great relationships while you’re at it.”

In his personal life, Isaac enjoys videogames, sand volleyball, and the connections that come with it. Isaac aims to work in software development after he graduates this fall, and eventually move out of the state.

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