Wednesday, October 31, 2007

USA Today features 4 Davidson articles (yes, 4 articles)

At Davidson, hoops and books coexist
By Reid Cherner, USA TODAY

DAVIDSON, N.C. — Taking Exit 30 off I-77, you don't find Davidson College as much as come upon it.

The 450-acre campus has an Ivy League air, or perhaps a whiff of the '50s, from its location on Main Street to The Soda Shop across the road.

Davidson is where the basketball coach lives next-door to the English professor and both are down the street from the athletics director.

It has its own honor code and students take their tests in the location of their choosing with no supervision. Stories are told of money found on the ground tacked to a tree or a bulletin board for the owner to retrieve.

Davidson is certainly not alone among colleges. Others offer academics, atmosphere and a picturesque campus.

What's different here is with just 1,700 students, the school — listed by U.S. News & World Report among the USA's top liberal-arts colleges — also has a winning basketball program at the Division I level.

This is a school in a peer group with Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore; a school with more Rhodes Scholars (23) than NBA All-Stars (none); one that accepts less than 35% of its applicants. It does not evoke visions of the Final Four.

What also is different from the modern-day college basketball program of taking in junior-college transfers and watching underclassmen leave for the pros and other schools: Not only are 11 players returning but also the five starters from last year's team that won 29 games and went 17-1 in the Southern Conference en route to its second NCAA tournament in a row.

A team with confidence enough to have an out-of-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and N.C. State, which combined have won at least one national championship in every decade for the past half-century.

"People expect a lot more of us," 6-8 senior forward Thomas Sander says.

Among the reasons why:

•A backcourt of 6-2 Stephen (STEFF-in) Curry, one of the nation's top freshmen last season who averaged 21.5 points, and 6-2 senior point guard Jason Richards, second in the nation in assists (7.3 a game) and a nominee this season for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the nation's top men's point guard.

•A frontcourt of Sander and 6-8 senior Boris Meno, who combined for nearly 15 rebounds a game.

•A defensive specialist, 6-6 junior Max Paulhus Gosselin.

"Each year there is that one or two mid-major teams that when you look at them on paper and what they've accomplished in recent years you say, 'Watch out for this team come tournament time,' " ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla says. "And Davidson certainly fits that mold this year."

Ignoring expectations

Bob McKillop's peers certainly agree, even if the Davidson coach is not buying into the hype.

In the USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 Coaches' preseason poll, Davidson came in 32nd. The Wildcats were ahead of two-time defending champion Florida and perennial playoff teams Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington, Virginia, Notre Dame and even Maryland, which defeated Davidson in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.

McKillop is not ignorant of the projections and the difficult out-of-conference schedule. It is just that "we have never looked at a season and said we should have 15 wins or 20 wins or 25 wins," he says.

Having said that, he is not blind to the projections: "We let the chips fall where they may when it comes to expectations. But we do understand that the expectations are a statement about what we've accomplished in the past."

McKillop does appreciate the value of having players who have experienced success, of seniors who could win more games than any class in school history.

"That experience can mitigate the temptation to become fat-headed or content," he says. "That is very good for me as a coach because in some ways it lightens the burden for me to hammer home that message. That message is being carried in the locker room by the three senior leaders."

Richards, who averaged 13.5 points last year, agrees.

"There is so much tradition in this program from what other guys have left. As a senior, I just want to leave a mark on Davidson basketball for the guys to learn from what we've done."

Seeking student-athletes

In McKillop, Davidson has someone who began as one kind of coach and ended up as another, finding his place here while traveling the world to find players.

He has graduated all 62 of his seniors in 19 years and has, in the most recent six-year period, a 92% graduation rate compared with the national average of 63.6% of men's basketball players.

McKillop demands team play and that his players become one unit, then revels in their differences.

"Players are not just basketball players here," says McKillop, who has six foreign players on the team. "They are discussing and they are analyzing the war in Iraq, the economic situation of the country, the 'Jena Six' or what is going on in Africa. They are just as much in touch with that reality as they are of the reality of the campus social environment, where they are constantly under a microscope because they are in a small-town college environment.

"I understand who we can recruit to fit that dynamic," McKillop says. "Usually if they fit that dynamic they are generally going to be guys who are team-oriented."

It is a philosophy McKillop developed over two decades, not the philosophy he brought to Davidson.

Once an assistant at the school, McKillop returned as head coach after a successful high school coaching career. Looking to use Davidson as a steppingstone, he lost 60 games his first three years.

"I would never want to be considered a mercenary in the world of college athletics," he says. "When I first came here, that was the attitude I had. Succeed at this job and then seize the first opportunity at one of the bigger conferences.

"When you get humbled like I was humbled … you start questioning, 'Did you make the wrong decision? Should you have stayed in high school? Are you a good enough coach? Are you worth anything?'… And the decision I made was to invest my total being in the job I was currently in.

"I feel like I'm an incredibly involved piece of the Davidson College community," he adds. "And when that happens it is the whole purpose of why you play to win. When a banner is in the rafters, everyone owns a piece of that banner. When you drive down (I-77) and you see a Davidson sticker on the back of someone's car, I'm a part of that experience.

"So when Davidson wins," McKillop says, "in whatever arena that is in, I win. Your goal as a coach is to give your players that way to think about the team."

Basketball attracts scholars

The success of the basketball program is boosted by the buy-in from the school's administration. Books and victories are presented as part of the Davidson experience. Fifty percent of the student body plays Division I or club sports.

"It is one of the great universities in the country academically and … that they have been able to sustain their basketball success in an environment where basketball takes a back seat to the academic rigors of the campus is, I think, quite an accomplishment," Fraschilla says.

Athletics director Jim Murphy, a '78 Davidson graduate, would disagree that sports plays a secondary role. "I really believe that the athletics at Davidson needs to support the goals and objectives of the college. And by that I mean the purpose of athletics has to be bringing great leaders to Davidson College and putting great kids in the classroom," Murphy says.

Davidson president Tom Ross, a '72 graduate, believes a demand of academic excellence and an expectation of athletic success is a perfect blend. "Frankly, that can be an advantage for us in recruiting students, not just student-athletes," Ross says of winning teams.

He believes the approach has worked advantageously "as we try to get the best and the brightest young folks here. I won't say we are unique, because there are other places that could argue the same thing. But I know that we are in great shape and I suspect we are in a position that others might envy."

What might not be envied is the competition the Wildcats will face in trying to get to the NCAA tournament and winning 20 games for the fourth consecutive season.

On Nov. 14 they play preseason No. 1 North Carolina at Charlotte's Bobcats Arena on ESPN. Before New Year's they'll play No. 11 Duke (Dec. 1, also in Charlotte), No. 2 UCLA (on Dec. 8, in Anaheim) and at No. 24 N.C. State (on Dec. 21).

"When I was a kid growing up you went to the park where the action was," says McKillop, born in Queens, N.Y., and who retains his accent despite decades living in the South. "You didn't go to the park where you could dominate the court. … You went where all the great college players were, the future NBA players were."

McKillop thinks his teams earn that same respect.

"For us to have the opportunity to get on the national stage with anybody is an extraordinary opportunity," he says. "You play, you practice, you dream and work to have that opportunity."

The players relish the challenge.

"It is kind of a given that since we have the whole team back, people were going to expect a lot of us. I think the coaching staff does, too, with those schedules they gave us," says Curry, whose dad, Dell, was an NBA star. "In order to be the best you have to beat the best, and we have an opportunity to do that."


Reid Cherner

DAVIDSON, N.C. -- When asked what makes "a Davidson player," men's basketball coach Bob McKillop will bring up some of the greatest soul singers to explain his answer.

"You know we used to have the Supremes and the Miracles and we used to have the Four Seasons," he says. "And all of the sudden it became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes.

"The group that has teamwork warms my heart. I love great teamwork. You watch the top teams historically in America and the teams that we are playing, UCLA, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and teamwork has been the fabric that created those national championships for them.

"The kind of player that we have here," McKillop says, "the kind of style that we use here is based on … five guys (who) have to function together."

Matt McKillop, who played for his dad from 2003-2006 and is an assistant at Emory, seconds that assessment.

"I think there is such a thing as a 'Davidson player,' and I think it comes from the system and style of play," he writes in an e-mail. "A Davidson player is smart, tough, physical, skilled and able to buy into the team mentality.

"Now, is each player on the team like that? No. They need a few wrinkles and players who bring different abilities and skills to the table. But if you look down their roster, you will see more players who fit the mold than don't."


Reid Cherner

DAVIDSON, N.C. -- Based on body type, geography and familiarity, Davidson got a five-star player. Stephen Curry, whose father, Dell, was an NBA star, might have gone to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but no one asked for him.

"I think coming out of high school it was my physical stature. I was kind of a skinny kid," says Curry, a two-time all-state player at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian. "Virginia Tech (his father's alma mater) was the most serious about that, but in the end they kind of backed off. Davidson was the choice of the schools I narrowed it down to."

Curry has known and was comfortable with coach Bob McKillop. "I've known Coach McKillop since I was 10. I played on Brendan's baseball team back in the day," Curry says of McKillop's youngest son, now a freshman for the Wildcats. "We had that bond. … I came up here and visited a lot. I liked all the teammates. It's close to home so my family gets to come watch. So it's a great fit for me."

Davidson got a player who, as a freshman, averaged 21.5 points and shot 41% from three-point range and 86% from the line. He also bought into McKillop's team-oriented concept.

"His whole life he's been involved in the world of the NBA and that has given him fearlessness, that has given him confidence, but has never at all allowed him to abdicate his sense of humility and teamwork, which is such a part of who he is," McKillop says. "That is what makes him so special."


Davidson adopts global approach
By Reid Cherner, USA TODAY

DAVIDSON, N.C. — Some coaches recruit using a city map. Others search the USA. Bob McKillop of Davidson needs a world atlas.

This year's Davidson team includes forward Boris Meno, born in the Congo before moving to France; guard Can Civi, Turkey; swingmen Max Paulhus Gosselin and William Archambault, Canada; forward Andrew Lovedale, Nigeria; and forward Ben Allison, England.

"I had absolutely no idea what Davidson was before they started to recruit me," says Gosselin, who considered the Ivy League. "I was looking to go to the best academic and best basketball school."

McKillop, a former high school history teacher, is looking for talent, of course, but raves about the ancillary benefits.

"First of all you have young men who come here with no sense of entitlement," he says. "They are living the dream that too many of us in America have lost sight of. They think they have died and gone to heaven when they walk into an arena and there are people cheering for them."

Although the players are appreciative of what they get, McKillop is appreciative of what they give.

"They present the idiosyncrasies that are part of their cultural heritage that are absorbed by our players in the locker room, on the practice court, in their conversation at meals," he says.

"We have Andrew Lovedale, who speaks of the Nigerian system of politics. …Boris Meno brings us a Congolese influence. Then you have the Cameroonians arguing the tribes of Cameroon are tougher than the tribes of Nigeria and the Congo. You can't buy that experience in a classroom, in a textbook."

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