Devin Gage felt disrespected.
Considered among the city's best players in his class before he ever stepped foot in Curie, Gage lived up to it during his first three seasons as a Condor.
A starter as a freshman and a key cog on the Cliff Alexander-led team that spent most of the 2013-14 team ranked No. 1 in the area and state, Gage came into his senior year this winter expecting to compete for major honors like Mr. Basketball.
But when the Tribune and others listed the leading candidates heading into the season, the 6-foot-1 guard's name was nowhere to be found.
"Of course I did," Gage said. "Being one of the top players in Chicago ever since I came into high school and not being in the top players for Player of the Year or Mr. Basketball was kind of disrespectful I guess.
"I was going to have this kind of season anyway because I want to go out with a bang, but it defintely added fuel to my fire."
"This kind of season" has Oliver's program back at the level it reached two seasons ago before a revelation of academically ineligible players forced Curie to forfeit all of its victories and its first city championship.
The return to glory started, ironically, with another victory Curie would later forfeit.
Gage's 28-point, five-steal, one-turnover performance at the renowned Marshall County Hoopfest in Kentucky came against a high-profile team from Canada that was later found to be an unsanctioned opponent. Curie forfeited that 72-69 win, but it set the tone for a great month for Gage and his team.
The No. 2 Condors scored more points than all 11 of their opponents, including a couple of heavyweights at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Gage's running 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Condors a dramatic 80-78 victory over Simeon in the semifinals. He was given the A.C. Williamson Award as the tournament's top player after Curie's 75-65 victory over Peoria Manual in the final.
The DePaul recruit scored 23 points in both games and is averaging 17.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 steals this season.
He is the Tribune/WGN-9 Athlete of the Month for December.
"At the beginning of the year people were having doubts about our team and having doubts about his leadership," Oliver said. "The knock on him was that sometimes he was
inconsistent, sometimes he played like he didn't care.
"I had a long talk with him. I told him, 'Devin, this is your year. You've been waiting four years for this. Now you've got the keys to the car. You've got to drive it.'"
What Curie does not need is a huge statistical contribution from Gage every single game. Quite simply, the Condors are loaded.
Junior Elijah Joiner and sophomore Landers Nolley look like sure-fire future Division I players. Juniors Terry Smith and Allante Pickens have been outstanding as well.
Traevon Martin and Tyree Martin are twin 6-7 sophomores still cutting their teeth.
Juniors and sophomores aren't seniors, and Gage's veteran presence was sorely missed on Tuesday.
Even without Gage, who was nursing an ankle injury he suffered in the final minute of the Pontiac tournament, the Condors were good enough to take a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter against No. 5 Kenwood.
But without Gage, they failed to protect the lead and were beaten on their court for the first time this season, 60-57.
"They look up to him," Oliver said. "He can tell them stories about Cliff, about some of the things we've been through.
"He's been a positive leader for us. He's really come a long way. By being a four-year starter, a lot of the things kids are going through now are new to them, but he's been through them. He's helped young guys, keeping them calm and telling them what to expect."