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Curtis DeCora Hired as New Hayward High Basketball Coach

Updated: Jun 12

By Ross Patterman

Writer for Sawyer County Gazette


There will be a new face prowling the sidelines for the Hayward Hurricanes boys’ basketball team this winter. Curtis DeCora, a 2003 graduate of Hayward High, will take over for Patrick Harrison as the Head Coach for the Hurricanes in 2024.


DeCora brings in a wealth of knowledge from his years as a player and a coach. A former three-year starting point guard for NCAA D-III Northland College in Ashland from 2004-06, DeCora spent a brief moment playing in the Premier Basketball League before embarking on a coaching career that includes nearly twenty years spent in Sawyer County.


“In addition to the six years with the Lac Courte Oreilles Migiziwag varsity program, I also coached two years with the Winter Warriors,” DeCora says. “Coming into Hayward, I have a total of 17 years on the bench. When you talk about Sawyer County, a lot of that experience comes by way of working with Sawyer County athletes through Rising Stars Basketball.”


DeCora says through his basketball club, Rising Stars Basketball, he already has a great familiarity with Hayward student-athletes. In addition to that, from 2014-22, DeCora coached third, fourth and fifth graders within the LCO Ojibwe School, and then worked with the 2028 class entering high school next year.


While DeCora will be the head for Hayward, he’s quick to explain that he does not see the program as his, but rather as an extension of the community and players.


“I’m a firm believer that a team belongs to the community, and the season to the players,” DeCora explains. “I think when you do it that way, it makes the players accountable and responsible for the season; it helps them buy into what we want to do here in Hayward.”


A Different Approach


​DeCora comes into a Hayward Hurricanes program that has not experienced a great deal of success in recent years. The Hurricanes finished just 5-20 for the 2023-24 season. In the past four seasons, the Hurricanes have gone 15-80. The Hurricanes averaged just 52.8 points this season but gave up nearly 70 points on defense.


“X’s and O’s seem to be a big priority across the state of Wisconsin, but when you focus more on skill you're going to give yourself an advantage,” DeCora explains. “Then when you double that up with increasing pace, which Northern Wisconsin typically plays a slower brand of basketball, you have a tactical advantage and a strategic advantage.


“So, I really think bringing a new brand of basketball to Hayward, which will include a faster pace, focusing more on skill and putting an emphasis on scoring points, full court pressure, trapping 74 feet, all those wonderful things that create chaos, is really going to help.”

 

DeCora has utilized this approach through his basketball club Rising Stars Basketball to develop a high level of skill in numerous members that has turned many student-athletes under his tutelage into all-conference, all-state and next level players.


Former LCO Migiziwag Eagles student-athlete, Tyson Radermacher, is currently a member of Haskell Indian Nations University Men’s Basketball team. Jesse Hanlon is a 2022 graduate from Lac Courte Oreilles finished Third Team All-Conference his senior year after averaging 16.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 2.3 APG, and he will play for UW – Stevens Point at Marshfield this winter. 


DeCora’s greatest success came during his two years spent as an assistant coach at Winter High School and the Winter Warriors basketball team. DeCora brought his coaching philosophy to a Winter program that has struggled over the years to be competitive. In the past two years the Warriors went 13-13 and 20-8 and produced two 1,000 point scorers, multiple All-Conference players, an All-State player, and won a WIAA D-5 regional title and a conference crown in 2023-24.  This is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 43 years.


​DeCora says a great reason for Winter’s success comes from a philosophy he developed, which is based on three guiding principles: Outwork, Listen, and Lifting Others Up.  The numbers are attributed to the style of play, which focuses on skill and freedom as opposed to X’s and O’s.


A Change in Culture


The Winter Warriors boys’ basketball team’s recent success is impressive, given its been less than 24 months since DeCora and head coach Josh "Hootie" Hautamaki took over the reigns.


DeCora says his playing style, coupled with his philosophy, is what allowed Winter to be so successful in such a short time. DeCora says his biggest goal in his first year with Hayward is to usher in a new culture.


“There needs to be a mindset change for the athlete,” DeCora explains. “Rather than be 'Like a Cane', we’re going to give the Hurricanes an identity. We want the players to want that, and as a collective strive to become that identity.  Every person is gifted with a superpower, and I want a player to embrace their superpower and embrace being the team that plays fast. I’m not interested in being the kind of coach that screams demands.”


DeCora says he wants players to hold themselves accountable and buy into the program. He wants to empower players to be the change they want to see and to believe in themselves.


“Something I brought over to Winter was the fact that we're going to put the players first, we're going to give the players freedom. We're going to empower them and allow them to take over the driver's seat,” DeCora says, describing his approach to coaching.


DeCora says his first, and most important tenet of his coaching philosophy is the ability to outwork the opposition but also each other, both in games and in practice.


“I want us to be a symbol of that outwork mentality. I do that in my own way by watching game film, going over stats and being over prepared. I want the boys to come in over prepared as well. So in practice they’re outworking, outside of practice they’re putting up extra shots, hitting the weight room and doing their homework.”


DeCora says the outwork mentality goes beyond the sport and includes rest and recovery, eating healthy and adopting a focused and positive mindset that builds people up.


“Every night is going to be different, you're going to have off nights, you're going to have nights where you're tired, or sore, or experience injuries, and ineligible players. However, if we can get all of them in the mindset of outworking the other team, that's where we want to be. That's what we brought to Winter.”


DeCora says his next rule is the importance of listening, both as a coach and as players. This not only means players listen and follow instructions but also his willingness to listen to his players, their goals and their feedback.  Success is in the details, and the better we get at the details, the more success we’ll see as a group.”


“When a coach is talking, I want the kids to listen and follow instructions. Sometimes players think you’re calling them out, but I refer to it as ‘Calling You Up.’ I want to put you on a stage to help you improve, so take these pointers and this advice and use it to get better.  I want to know what your goals are so I can help you get there.”


DeCora also highlights the importance of having fun and increasing team camaraderie and unity.


“One of the things we bring in is we’re always high energy in practice. We have music blaring and we’re focused on touches in practice. What I mean by that is we’re high-fiving, giving fist bumps, giving compliments, and just picking each other up. It’s max positivity, and that’s one of the things we really look for. I’m very big on helping one another and that team dynamic.”


The final piece of DeCora’s coaching philosophy is team challenges. DeCora says games are won through practices and the work put outside the gym and in the offseason.


“I firmly believe we win games in practice. A lot of our practices are geared around team challenges. If we can go 6-0 in our team challenges in practice, that's a pretty good indicator that we're going to be in a good position to win our next game because we're executing, we're making our shots, we're making good passes, our tempo is great, we're moving at a fast pace. So, if we can practice really hard and win those challenges, we’re going to win games.”


Proof is in the Program


DeCora understands that while all of this sounds well and good, he knows the question on everyone’s mind is can his philosophy translate to success? DeCora says he already has his answers thanks to his two-year stint with the Winter Warriors.


Under DeCora’s philosophy and playing style Winter achieved milestones and success not seen in the tiny southern Sawyer County school district in decades. In his first year the Warriors had their first winning season in a decade and went 13-13 and hosted and won a regional game. During that first year Albert Blair earned First Team All-Conference honors and finished with 1,000 points in his prep career.


The 2023-24 season was Winter’s most successful in over 40 years. The Warriors won a regional championship and the East Lakeland crown for the first time in the same season since 1981. It was Winter’s first conference championship since 1996 and first regional title since 1995.Along the way Gunnar Greuel led the nation in rebounds, amassing more than 1,300 career rebounds, and was selected as First Team All-Conference, and Player of the Year in the Lakeland East Conference.  Greuel received First Team All-Sectional by the Wisconsin Sports Network, was named Honorable Mention All-State by the WBCA, and Honorable Mention All-State by the Associated Press. 


Winter High junior Adam Bednorski led the state in made three pointers with 110 while averaging 16.9 points per game.  Bednorski garnered First Team All-Conference in the Lakeland East Conference with 16.9 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game, and 3.0 steals per game.  Bednorski tied the school record with seven 3-pointers in a game.


Senior Curtis “CJ” Thompson will take his talents to UW – Stevens Point at Marshfield this winter after he averaged 16.6 points per game and was named Second Team All-Conference.  Thompsom scored 39 points in a game – three away from tying the all-time single points in a game.


In 2023-24 Winter set program records for wins in a season (20) and twice set the school record for points in a game (112, 116). The Warriors ranked among the highest scoring teams in the state with 80.3 points per game.  DeCora says this was made possible because players bought into the playing style and philosophy.


“We had guys that outworked and outhustled teams on every play. Most teams in Wisconsin, especially in northern Wisconsin, just aren't used to a fast-paced playing style. And then we combine that with a relentless defense that forced turnovers that led to transition points. So it wasn't like we had some 6’10” guy out there who went Division One. Our system allowed players to develop skills and then thrive on the court with those skills.”

DeCora firmly believes that his playing style and philosophy can translate into success for the Hayward Hurricanes. He envisions Hayward also competing for conference titles, putting up school records, and being competitive in their conference and across the state.


“I would really love to see Hayward start hanging banners up for conference championships, regional championships. I want to get kids on the 1,000 points scoring list, reach some individual achievements, things like that. If we're utilizing a player-first approach, then we need to have milestones and markers for the players so that they can start challenging themselves.”


DeCora knows none of this will happen overnight. He believes if Hayward he’ll need to instill his playing style across all levels of Hayward basketball.


“If we can really get all the program levels going through that, so the C team, the JV, the varsity, and then see that spill down to the 7th and 8th grade teams, and into the youth basketball then we can really make things happen. I really want to help us change to a more modern style of basketball. If I can get to that point, that would be optimal.”


DeCora says for his first two seasons he wants to see the Hurricanes be competitive and win at least half their games.


“The first year, it’s more than possible to reach .500, but it’s ultimately up to the boys to determine what they want out of their season. I would love for us to go 12-12 in the regular season, get a home regional opener, and win our first regional game. I would also really love to see us get up into those 70, 72 points per game area. Second year, I would really love to see the kids put 100 points on the board at least eight to ten times during the season and really start to embrace our system.”


DeCora knows that it will take time to rebuild the program, but after spending so many years coaching in Sawyer County, he believes Hayward has the athletes needed to be successful. He adds that the next four years could be special.


“I know I'm leaving a program like Winter, where we have the opportunity to win conference and a regional championship again,” DeCora says. “But when I saw this position open up I knew the next four years could be very strong for Hayward basketball. I think people should be very excited about the future of Hurricanes basketball and I am looking forward to being a part of it.”


On May 20, 2024 the Hayward Community School DIstrict Board of Education ratified the decision to hire Curtis DeCora as the Head Coach for the Boys Varsity Program with the Hayward High School.

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