'Cats acquire added fight  with high-scoring Dugger

By Jeff Birchfield

   For a Lees-McRae basketball team losing scoring machine Dan Tollens to graduation, Aaron Dugger may be just what the doctor ordered.
   Dugger, the Unaka High School basketball standout, made it official Friday morning when he signed to play for the Bobcats next season. "Lees-McRae is close to home," said Dugger. "I wanted my parents and the community to be able to come and watch me play. They backed me a lot and this was the best offer to play close to home."
   Tollens had games of 27 and 39 points in Lees-McRae's last two games in a February. Dugger showed an ability to put up those numbers consistently at the prep, averaging 27 points his senior season. During early January, Dugger had back-to-back 40 point games with the first coming in the Arby's Classic.
   "That was something I will never forget," said Dugger about the two 40-point outbursts. "I remember both games real well. I had a couple of put-backs to get things going. My teammates had a lot of good screens and some double screens to get me good, open shots."
   Playing for Unaka, the All-State performer led the Rangers to the Watauga Valley Conference championship and all the way to the state quarterfinals where they lost to Ezell-Harding. "He worked for everything he accomplished," said his high school coach Donald Ensor. "It doesn't come by chance. He shoots year-round.
   "He's a gym-rat that lives in the gym. He stayed in the gym four years and it shows with the record we had for the time he was wearing our uniform."
   Added Dugger, "That was something special. We worked hard four years to get there. We came in this past summer and worked hard to get ourselves in a position to get there."
   His new team has a long way to go to match that record. Despite having a dismal 2002 record of 8 wins and 20 losses this past season, Lees-McRae still showed the heart of a champion. They upset Longwood in the first round of the Carolinas Virginia Athletic Conference tournament before falling 110-78 to Queens College in the second round. A huge weakness for the Bobcats was being outscored 11.3 ppg by their opponents.
   They signed Sullivan North's high-scoring David Buchanan last season. Now with Dugger joining his former high school rival, the Bobcats have the potential to be able to match points with anyone.
   "It ought to be fun," said Dugger about playing on the same team with Buchanan. "He can fill it full. I'll enjoy passing the ball to him. We both shoot it pretty good. He's worked as hard as I have to get his shots to fall. The work in the gym pays off."
   Don't think that Dugger's game is all about scoring. He exemplified the all-around player, who made the whole team better at Unaka. Dugger was a solid rebounder and interior player along with Ben Cole, while his skills forced teams to leave open three-point shooters Dustin Collins and Chris Collins.
   "Aaron was a very unselfish player," said coach Ensor. "His shot selection was very good. He didn't have to take many shots to get 30-40 points. He did it against every trick defense I know. His play took a lot of focus off of several good ball players. The best defender was always on him."
   At Unaka, Dugger benefited from playing for the school's all-time winningest coach. "Coach Ensor, his brother Johnny and coach (Richard) Thomas know so much about the game," said Dugger. "I learned so much from all three of them. Coach Ensor is a competitor and he makes everyone around him a competitor.
   "When you've played three straight games in three nights and are going for a fourth, he gets the most out of you."
   At Banner Elk, he will play for veteran coach Randy Unger, who has coached in over 500 collegiate games. Unger has won almost 60% of the games he's been on the sidelines. "From what I've watched coach Unger, he wants to win and also gets a lot out of his players." said Dugger. "He coaches hard and is really trying to turn things around."
   This spring, Dugger has been a steady performer for Unaka on the baseball field. As a centerfielder for the Rangers, Dugger was batting over the .400 mark at mid-season.
   There is one adjustment the multi-talented athlete must make after leaving the confines of Stoney Creek for Williams Gym. He played mostly forward in high school, but at the next level, the 6-3 Dugger was recruited as a two-guard. "I don't think that will be that much of an adjustment," said Ensor. "The biggest thing is the size and speed and the shot clock. No one can guess what the body is going to do. Put 15 pounds on him in a positive manner and you will really have something.
   "I think Aaron Dugger excelled at Unaka. I think he will do it at the next level and he will excel at life. I'm very comfortable where Aaron's going. Those guys were loyal to Aaron from the first day they spoke with him."
   Added Dugger about playing guard, "It should come along. As a sophomore I was more of a point guard and they moved me to the four position as a junior. I've been working on handling the ball and I will be working getting stronger with the ball this season.
   "One thing, I will always remember is playing for Unaka and playing the home games there. I'll miss it dearly."
   Ensor says the school will miss Dugger as a person, "He had the right direction at home. Countless nights, his dad Ken Dugger played toss back. My wife teaches at Unaka Elementary and I coached his older brother. I've known him since he was a little bitty boy. He's a good boy and a good student. I have two sons and I would be pleased if they turn out like Aaron Dugger."
   Next week, we will feature Dugger's teammate Ben Cole, who signed on Friday to play with Tusculum College.