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July 2, 2007
Curry takes advantage of opportunity
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It was not the most auspicious debut.
Maybe the ACC schools that didn't believe he could play high-level Division I basketball were right. Virginia Tech was the one school in the league that showed mild interest, and his father's alma mater told him he would have to walk on and bulk up if he wanted to play.
Stephen Curry (pronounced STEFF-en) admits he was lost in his first collegiate game. He started at guard right out of the gate for Davidson, just as coach Bob McKillop had told him he could when he was recruiting him out of Charlotte (N.C.) Christian.
The opponent was Eastern Michigan, and the game was on the road – as so many nonconference games are for the Wildcats. Davidson managed to win 81-77, but Curry remembers the game most for what he did wrong.
He played 35 minutes and scored 15 points. Respectable.
He also had … 13 turnovers.
"Another coach would have sat me down," Curry said. "But Coach McKillop just kept starting me. He really gave me a chance.
"I had never had a game like that. It was a little overwhelming."
Curry didn't take long to restore McKillop's faith. The next night in Ann Arbor, Mich., the baby-faced kid went out and wowed the Wolverines.
Curry had 32 points, nine rebounds, four assists and just three turnovers in 35 minutes. Michigan won 78-68, but Davidson and Curry served notice on the nation, whether it was paying attention or not.
"That was an incredible game," said Curry, the son of former NBA standout Dell Curry. "Even though we lost we played against a Big Ten team that I had watched all my life. And there was (then-Michigan coach) Tommy Amaker, another player I had watched as a kid. I played well and it gave me a lot of confidence. It was a big boost."
Curry and the Wildcats never looked back. The 6-foot-1 guard finished ninth nationally in scoring, averaging 21.5 points per game. The Wildcats went 17-1 in the Southern Conference and ripped through the conference tournament to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. At 29-4 overall and riding a 13-game winning streak, they earned a No. 13 seed opposite No. 4 Maryland in the Midwest Regional.
"He's for real," Williams said. "I told him after the game, 'You could play anywhere.' "
What Curry wanted was to play immediately. When the big boys shied away, McKillop made it clear Davidson had a spot for Curry.
"I knew I had an opportunity to play because we lost seven seniors and they were searching for players," Curry said. "Coach McKillop said when I stepped on campus that I had a chance not just to play, but start and have a big impact."
The big-time schools stayed away from Curry because of his size. He weighed less than 170 pounds as a senior at Charlotte Christian.
But McKillop saw the potential. He was on Curry early and recruited him hard.
"He's a special kid," said McKillop, whose team returns all of its starters and its first five guys off the bench. "He works hard, he understands the game and he's just a joy to be around.
"What was interesting for me after the Eastern Michigan game, when we recruited him he had had a similar experience in a tournament in Las Vegas. He had like nine turnovers in a day game and 11 later that night. That's 20 in two games, yet he didn't quit playing. He didn't hang his head. He still made shots, still defended. That got my attention. He didn't hold a pity party because of the mistakes."
Curry's mental toughness left an indelible impression on his future coach.
"The ability that he had to transcend the moment and go into the next play … you don't find that in too many young kids," McKillop said. "Even some NBA guys can't go on to the next play.
"Credit Dell and Sonya (Curry's parents). That's a model family. They're great parents, salt of the earth. There's no entitlement in their lifestyle. It's about accountability and responsibility, and I can promise you the apple did not fall far from the tree."
The apple's game has a certain polish because of the tree from which it fell. Dell Curry played in the NBA for 16 seasons after being a first-round selection out of Virginia Tech. One of the greatest outside shooters in NBA history, Curry finished among the top 10 in 3-point shooting percentage seven times. He led the league in 1998-99, shooting .476 from beyond the arc.
Dell Curry retired after the 2001-02 season. Stephen was in the eighth grade, but already he had gotten an education that his peers will take years to acquire.
"Being around the NBA and watching my whole life, I picked up things that I saw and got a little head-start IQ-wise on where to be and when to be there," the younger Curry said. "I was traveling with him, seeing a lot of great players right in front of me.
"He coached my JV team in ninth grade, and he coached me my senior year, too. He has so much knowledge of the game, and he's my dad, so I had it in my house. He always gave me a breakdown when we'd be riding home in the car after games, and I'd think about what I just did."
Now it's Davidson's opponents who will have to think about Curry and what he'll be doing to them next season. There may be a sleepless night or two in store.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.