By: Mark Wiedmer
DAVIDSON, N.C. — They lined up along Faculty Drive late Wednesday afternoon, four and five deep, quite possibly more folks than Davidson College’s 1,700 total students.
In a few minutes, a bus carrying the Wildcats basketball team would pass by on its way to the Charlotte airport. The Cats would then board a plane for Detroit, site of Friday night’s NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal against Wisconsin.
But first they needed a parade, led by the team’s furry mascot and passing by Davidson head coach Bob McKillop’s white frame house, the one decorated with a white bed sheet proclaiming, “Congats, Cats.”
“This is such as small community, everybody knows everybody else,” said Leonard McRee. “Davidson in the Sweet 16. It’s fantastic.”
They have become the most fantastic story in the NCAA Tournament. CBS and ESPN have all but claimed squatter’s rights on the pristine grounds of the quaint campus ever since Wildcats sophomore guard Stephen Curry scored 25 second-half points to jolt Georgetown 74-70 last Sunday.
“We were supposed to be at the beach this week,” said McRee. “But when Davidson won and we heard about the parade, we thought we needed to come back for this.”
To better understand the power of community in Davidson, McRee didn’t even graduate from the college founded by the Presbyterians in 1837.
“I went to N.C. State,” he said. “By the way, State is the last team to beat Davidson this season.”
That was on Dec. 21. The Wildcats have won 24 straight games since then to reach their first regional semifinal since 1969. Those Cats were coached by Lefty Driesell and fell to North Carolina in that year’s East Regional final.
“I’ve not been a big fan of Charlie Scott ever since,” said Leland Park, referring to the UNC guard who hit the winning basket that day for the Tar Heels. “I don’t remember much other than that. I think my mind blocked it out. It was too painful.”
Park first came to Davidson in the fall of 1959 after graduating that spring from McCallie School, where he had been a two-year boarder from Orlando, Fla. He graduated in 1963, then soon began a career in Davidson’s library. He was its director for more than 30 years.
“Something like this serves to bring people together,” said Park. “It’s exciting. When they made the comeback against Georgetown, my eyes got on stems. I couldn’t believe it.”
The Davidson student body couldn’t believe the e-mail it received from the administration Wednesday morning. Thanks to private gifts from several trustees, the school was offering to pay round-trip bus fare, a hotel room and a ticket for any student who wished to make the trip. More than 800 had responded by the end of the day.
“Hopefully, more than 90 percent of the campus will be in Detroit by Friday night,” said Curry. “It’s been kind of crazy, seeing all the papers, watching everything on ESPN. But we’ve still got to focus on Wisconsin. We don’t want this to end just yet.”
Choosing words those students might echo by the end of the week, McKillop said, “It’s just been amazing to wake up each morning and realize this is not a dream.”