The son of the former NBA standout could have attended his father's school, but he's doing fine at Davidson, which faces UCLA on Saturday.
By Robyn Norwood, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
DAVIDSON, N.C. -- The scent in the air, fresh and clean, is what you notice first.
Stephen Curry, a slender basketball player who scored 32 points and made seven of 14 three-pointers in Davidson's loss to Charlotte the night before, stepped off a campus walkway Thursday and into a small building.
"Over here, you bring your button-up shirts, and they iron and press them and hang them up for you," he said. "Over here, you just bring your bagful of clothes -- they give you a number when you first get to campus -- and they wash and fold them. It's very helpful during the week when you have a lot of work. You take a 10-minute break, and drop off your laundry."
This is no perk for privileged athletes. It is the free Davidson College laundry service, in operation since 1919 for all students.
Carol Belk, who has worked in the laundry for 17 years, spied Curry and hurried over.
"Hey, you awesome thing," she said, "Bless your heart, you were great. You have a safe trip to L.A."
"I appreciate it," Curry said, and headed back out the door to practice, a Davidson knit cap on his head to ward off the chill of a fall day.
Deep in the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference country, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry who was slighted by 12 ACC schools -- including Virginia Tech, his father's alma mater -- has found a home at tiny 1,700-student Davidson, a Presbyterian college founded in 1837.
Curry scored more points last season than any freshman in the country but Kevin Durant, set an NCAA record for freshmen by making 122 three-pointers, and finished his season with 30 points in an NCAA tournament loss to Maryland.
This season, with Davidson's record at 3-4 as the Wildcats try to steel themselves for March with games against some of the nation's top programs, the 6-foot-3 guard scored 24 in a four-point loss to top-ranked North Carolina, and 20 in a six-point loss to Duke.
Today, Curry -- the nation's second-leading scorer at 26 points a game -- brings Davidson to Anaheim to take on seventh-ranked UCLA in the Wooden Classic at the Honda Center.
"We missed out," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who remembers Stephen as a skinny youngster who used to attend Blue Devils basketball camp. "Hell, I'd like to have him."
At a school such as North Carolina, Curry would be a demigod, and students might whisper excitedly on the rare moments they encountered him on the sprawling campus.
At Davidson, Curry knows the names of those who greet him as he passes the stately old brick buildings on a campus that has produced 23 Rhodes scholars, and he eats his meals with the other students.
"The big chicken parma," he said. "That's chicken parmesan. It's the meal everybody comments about.
"Just how small it is here, it has its benefits. I know probably 85% of the student population by their first names. It's pretty cool. I like that."
It wasn't what Curry had in mind when he was a high school player in nearby Charlotte, where his father was a mainstay of the old Charlotte Hornets and now works for the Bobcats, recently deciding against a job as an assistant coach in part so he and his wife, Sonya, could watch Stephen's games together.
"I always grew up wanting to go to Virginia Tech and follow in my father's footsteps," said Stephen, whose mother also went to Virginia Tech, starring for the volleyball team.
When Stephen's senior year came, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg -- who didn't have a scholarship open for the next season -- offered Curry, then maybe 6 feet and 160 pounds, a chance to walk on and sit out his freshman season and be awarded a scholarship the next year.
"I loved his game, but we had two very, very good guards who were seniors -- Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon who beat Carolina and Duke -- and they were going to play," Greenberg said. "He wanted to play right away. Probably being honest was a mistake."
Stephen -- whose name is pronounced "Steff-in" -- was crushed. His family could have afforded to pay for his freshman year, but Stephen wanted to feel more wanted.
"I realized my dream of being at Virginia Tech was kind of gone," he said, and two days after Virginia Tech's offer, he committed to Davidson, whose coach, Bob McKillop, he had known since he played youth baseball with one of McKillop's sons.
Greenberg became just another ACC coach with regrets.
"He's a terrific kid, a beautiful kid, and they're a Norman Rockwell family," Greenberg said. "It puts everyone in a hard situation. Dell's beloved here, and he should be. In a perfect world, Stephen would be at Virginia Tech. But things have worked out very well for him."
It was Stephen's size that gave coaches pause.
"My junior year, I was 5-8. I was a shrimp," Curry said.
His freshman year in college, he was 6-1, then grew to 6-3 over the summer. When doctors recently X-rayed his injured left wrist, they told him his bone structure suggested he might grow another inch or two, a late-bloomer like his father.
"He's grown more, I think, than any ACC coach thought he would," Krzyzewski said. "A lot of people thought, well, he'd be good, but he's not going to be a star. Obviously Bobby's a great coach and he's been showcased there, and his bloodlines have come out. He's a championship-level kid."
McKillop was never dissuaded by Curry's size.
"I've always had this inkling that the sons of ex-players usually turn out to be pretty good players," he said, and he loved Curry's easygoing nature and resilience.
"He has a fearlessness about him that transcends the past and allows him to live in the moment. That's a pretty mature young man," McKillop said.
For the Wildcats, 29-5 last season, there already have been four setbacks this season -- the close losses to North Carolina and Duke, and losses to Western Michigan and conference rival Charlotte.
With UCLA today and North Carolina State later this month, Davidson's nonconference record could take the kind of beating that would make it important to win the Southern Conference tournament to earn an NCAA tournament bid instead of hoping for an at-large bid.
"It's a different mountain to climb for a team like ours," said McKillop, who doesn't seem worried that he might have overscheduled.
These are the teams he believes Davidson has to play if the Wildcats are going to get past the sort of nice-try, no-cigar first-round NCAA tournament loss they had against Maryland last season, and maybe someday relive the glory of 1969, when a Davidson team coached by Lefty Driesell fell seconds shy of reaching the Final Four before losing to North Carolina on the final shot.
These days, the difference between an ACC team or Pacific 10 team and his is often endurance, McKillop said, and not necessarily physical endurance.
"It's possession to possession," he said. "It's toughness, where when you miss a shot you don't take the next defensive play off, or do you go and entrench yourself? If you get to the line in crunch time, do you miss the foul shot?
"It's a season-long journey. The investment we're making is part of the process of us trying to be better come March."