Friday, July 06, 2007

Player Profiles: #30 Stephen Curry

SoCon Freshman of the Year, Mid-Major Freshman of the Year, SoCon Tournament MVP, NCAA record for three-pointers as a freshman, member of the U19 USA National team, averaged 21.9 pts/gm (second in the country for freshmen behind Kevin Durant), set a new school record with 117 three-pointers.

When talking about Stephen Curry, it is sometimes easier to let the titles and designations say it all. After all, stats and awards are supposed to summarize the overall story about an athlete, right?

In his first game in Belk Arena, Stephen Curry helped lead Davidson to a double digit victory over Illinois-Chicago. He shot 11-19 from the field, including 3-6 from three, and finished with a game-high 27 points. As we were walking out of the gym afterwards, I overheard a conversation between a Davidson student and one of Stephen's friends from high school. She was saying about how poorly Stephen had played in that game:

"I mean Stephen missed four shots in a row at one point."

I immediately knew that Curry was a new kind of superstar for Davidson. We've had three-point shooters...we've had sons of famous basketball Dads...but not since the days of Mike Maloy, Dick Snyder and Fred Hetzel has Davidson had such a superstar.

In the last year, Stephen Curry not only transformed Davidson's record book and all-time standings, he also set the stage for a transformational struggle for Davidson to transcend the Southern Conference and become a basketball brand on the national stage.

With pre-season approximations already placing the Wildcats in the Top 25 and at-large in the 2008 NCAA tournament, it seems like that struggle is going pretty well.

Before last season's Appalachian State-Davidson game, I asked one athletic department official why the Mecklenburg community had finally seemed to embrace the Wildcats (the 5,580 in attendance made it the highest attended conference game in Belk Arena history). The Wildcats had gone undefeated in their conference before and had been highly successful against major programs in recent years. Why did everyone care about Davidson all of a sudden?

"It isn't really about the win-loss thing...or even about the quality of the opponent. People are showing up this year because they are playing exciting basketball. Curry plays differently than stars in the past. Period."

Whether it's his distinctive quick release, dazzling moves around the basket, his scoring proficiency, fun-loving persona, or local legendary status, Curry has become the face of Davidson basketball for the next three years.

The most interesting part of the entire Stephen Curry story is not necessarily what he has done on his own, but how he has affected everyone else around him. The Davidson coaching staff has always made its impression by coaching unselfish, fundamental basketball. McKillop created a system to which all of his players voluntarily submitted. However, in this past year, McKillop's theme wasn't just about responsibility and the narrow path...this year he added in freedom. Curry earned a unique freedom that few McKillop-taught players have ever enjoyed.

For players like Thomas Sander and Jason Richards, this was supposed to be a challenging year. They were expected to take roles of leadership behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera. But Curry came along and the media wanted to ask them about Steph. Although some speculated that the freshman's stardom would alienate his teammates, Sander and Richards used their captain status to keep the team together. They built Steph up, but knew when to jokingly take him out (ie. missed dunk in SoCon championship). They too walked the line between freedom and responsibility, a line that had not explicitly existed before the arrival of #30.

Finally, Stephen embodied the athlete superstar on Davidson's campus. Far from having the movie-star status of a Tyler Hansbrough at UNC, Curry was largely respected and treated like just another student. But during basketball season, there was a distinct excitement that followed him around. He was the reason that students started coming to basketball games in droves. He has made all of us turn our attention to the national basketball media and their love of little Davidson.

The verdict is still out on whether Curry will become the best player in Davidson's history. We don't know whether the Wildcats will enjoy the national status of Gonzaga by the year 2010. It remains to be seen whether Davidson can break the decades-old drought of winning in the NCAA tournament. But, whenever Stephen Curry pulls on the jersey of the red and black, there will always be hope and expectation.

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