OXNARD — When your mother and father are in the Navy, one of the first lessons a child learns is the meaning of 0600.
It's military time for 6 a.m., the sleepy-eyed hour Nicholas Curtis and his older sister, Danielle, used to arrive at Point Magu Naval Air Weapons Station for their basketball workout at the base gymnasium.
"Every summer vacation, we were in the gym at 0600," Danielle said.
Their father, Mike Curtis, knew his children weren't thrilled with the early-morning practices. Danielle was in junior high, Nicholas in elementary school. But they had no choice.
"That was part of the regimen I had them on," he said. "I guess it was uncivilized in a way. We were the only dedicated people that would take on the challenge of that magnitude."
There was the usual whining and complaining. Nicholas and Danielle even tried seeking help from their mother, Colleen.
"Mom, tell him we don't have to go," they pleaded.
"But it's good for you," Colleen said. "How else are you ever going to get better?"
Like good recruits, the Curtis children woke up on time and learned their basketball fundamentals.
Today, they laugh about it and admit, "Father and mother know best."
Danielle went on to help Oxnard High win the Southern Section Division I-AA girls' basketball championship in 1997 and received a scholarship to Cal State Dominguez Hills.
And Nicholas, the baby brother, has grown into a 6-foot-6 junior at Oxnard and could become one of the region's best college prospects. He's averaging 15.2 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks for the Yellowjackets (17-4).
"Sometimes, you didn't want to get up," Nicholas said. "You know, I was a little kid, but I knew it would pay off in the long run."
Now, if only some of Danielle's aggressiveness could rub off on her sometimes-too-nice brother.
"We wish he had a little more of Danielle's fierceness," Oxnard Coach Henry Lobo said.
Nicholas does respond when provoked. He was hit in the face by a Newbury Park player earlier this season and proceeded to score 24 of his 28 points in the second half. After that, teammates joked, "Should I kick you in the face?"
With long arms, large hands, good leaping ability and improving perimeter shooting, Curtis possesses all the requirements to be successful. He has the kind of potential that excites fans and coaches.
"He's just getting used to his body," Lobo said. "He was 6-3 as a freshman. All of a sudden, he just grew. I still think he's got one more [growth] spurt left."
Nicholas, who turns 17 in November, has such a baby face that the school could probably raise funds with a raffle guessing what year he will begin to shave.
Presently he has no use for the mustache and beard trimmer he received for Christmas.
Nicholas plays center for Oxnard but trains as a wing player for his summer traveling team. On the court, he's steady and under control. He makes his free throws and doesn't miss easy shots.
"We've asked him to use all his skills, not just one," Lobo said.
He's always smiling, doing his homework or playing video games.
Nicholas is five years younger than his sister, but they remain close. He has stayed with her in the dorms at Dominguez Hills and she proudly boasts, "That's my baby brother."
Of course, she used to beat him in games of one-on-one and doesn't apologize for getting physical.
"I played rough," she said.
But in seventh grade, Nicholas started to win.
"I was shocked at first," he said. "After that, I was talking trash all the way home."
The baby brother is growing up. He doesn't even mind waking up at 0600 anymore.
Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or firstname.lastname@example.org