Saturday, March 29, 2008

From Chicago Sun-Times

Curry on, oh mighty Davidson
Marksmanship of Dell's baby-faced boy turns Davidson into giant killers
March 29, 2008
BY JAY MARIOTTI Sun-Times Columnist

DETROIT -- Am I hallucinating? Is this some sort of basketball Pleasantville coming to life in an 80,000-seat football dome? Can a private liberal-arts school from down Mayberry R.F.D. way, where all 1,700 students have their clothes cleaned for free at the Lula Bell Houston Laundry, actually advance to the almighty Elite Eight behind a puberty-faced shooter rooted on by a bling-covered LeBron James?

``He's a very, very, very, very, very good basketball player," the Vogue cover guy said of Stephen Curry, who is making magazine covers himself. ``I don't know if he's coming out in the (NBA) draft this year. When he does, he has a spot.''

Close the eyes, open them. Slap the face, conk the forehead.

It's no fantasy.

Much of the world is a lie, with the b.s. quotient rising in my world and yours, but rest assured that Curry is no myth and Davidson no fleeting folly. How spectacular to see March Madness, diluted by sluggish television ratings and a certain big-program predictability, officially produce the story America can embrace. North Carolina and Memphis and UCLA probably will reach the Final Four as top-seeded behemoths, so wouldn't it be wonderful if Curry and the Wildcats, cheered on Friday evening by hundreds of students whose tickets, bus fare and rooms were funded by the school's Board of Trustees -- why couldn't I go to a college like that? -- joined them with one more crackling victory Sunday over Kansas?

``Rock chalk, Jayhawk!'' the comped Davidson kids chanted after the systematic, 73-56 dismantling of Wisconsin, a high-efficiency program not dismantled often. Maybe this is George Mason and one, in the hoops parlance. Maybe a prestigious school in the Carolina backwoods, which doesn't allow loans so students graduate without debt and trusts them enough to let them take tests without monitors -- why couldn't I go to a college like that? -- can reach the last weeekend in an era designed to minimize the small fry. Let's hope so, because the Davidson joy ride is fueling the senses like few others.

``The sense of intimacy that exists on our campus is unparalleled in NCAA Division I basketball," coach Bob McKillop said. ``You hear all about the free laundry. But when the Board of Trustees votes in a meeting to go into their personal pockets and put out the money so that every student can go to this game … that reaches a level that's unprecedented.

``I'm stunned by it. Thrilled by it."

So are we. And mostly, with a nod to Barrington product Jason Richards, we are thrilled by Curry, who shredded Bo Ryan's renowned defense with 33 more points and continues to rule the NCAA tournament with the flick of a supple wrist. It didn't matter that Wisconsin dogged him with Michael Flowers, who has quieted Michigan State's Drew Neitzel and most Big Ten shooters. It didn't matter than this Midwest Regional semifinal was played in Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, where the court was elevated about three feet above the benches and placed in the middle of the stadium, a configuration that could have caused depth-perception issues. Curry shot down the Badgers anyway, just as he eliminated Georgetown with 30 points and Gonzaga with 40.

Didn't he feel like he was in the middle of the ocean, with the Davidson fans about a city block away? Nah, he was just feeling it, as usual. ``Well, the rims here are very, very soft. They give great bounces for shooters like me,'' said Curry, who hit 6 of 11 from three-point range. ``The depth perception was tough to get adjusted to, but I think that's the value of practice (Thursday), just to get used to that and make that last in our memories overnight and come back and have confidence to shoot it.''

He makes it sound as easy as he makes it look, pumping his fist, thumping his chest and clapping in the direction of the fans. ``Michael did a pretty good job of chasing Curry. He had to make the shots. But he did make shots, some tough ones,'' said Ryan, marveling with the rest of us.

But the most triumphant moment came when Richards found Curry for a sweet reverse layup, which sent wild ripples of glee through the student section and even had James, in town for a game tonight against the Pistons, rising and applauding in his semi-courtside seat. ``It just shows what we're doing here at Davidson,'' Curry said of the global star. ``We got guys that are in the spotlight and they're coming to our games and watching us play. It's pretty cool to give him something to be happy about and cheer about and just entertain him. It's just really cool to have a guy like LeBron James, one of the best players in the NBA now, coming out and supporting Davidson. Well, I don't know if he's supporting Davidson.''

Oh, he's supporting Davidson, all right, perhaps living vicariously through Curry because James never played college basketball himself. Unlike LeBron, whose high-school games were televised by ESPN, Curry was shunned by coaches at the major programs even though he's the son of former NBA shooting whiz Dell Curry. If you think he has a boyish face now, you should have seen it four years ago when they recruited him as a high-school junior in North Carolina. His body was frail, and the look suggested mid-major. So, Curry selected Davidson and launched a quiet mission. When the Wildcats played the UNC Tar Heels earlier this season, he scored 24 points and put a scare into the marquee program. Said Carolina coach Roy Williams: ``He's a kid where -- University of North Carolina included -- we can say, `Hey, we missed that kid.''' Mike Krzyzewski said the same thing after Curry and Davidson played Duke tough. And how about Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, asking Curry to walk on and maybe give him a full-ride scholarship the next year?


McKillop was overjoyed to have him. ``I stood up in front of this group of very engaged alums, a large number, and told them: `Wait till you see Steph Curry. He is something special,' '' he said. ``That is something now that I feel very, very good that I said, because I look like a prophet ... I was surprised some bigger schools weren't after him, but I also understood he did not have the body that most ACC and SEC programs are looking for. He did look a little frail. He did look very young for his age."

Now 6-3 and 180 pounds, Curry not only is the glowing face of the Madness but a first-round draft choice in the making. He proved last weekend that he isn't the least bit flustered. Now, he's talking like anything is possible. ``We like to come out and just battle with the big guys,'' he said. ``I mean, you can't be soft out there. You have to hit flesh, just compete 100 percent every play. It's a mission for us to get loose balls and control the boards. To do that, you have to be very physical, boxing out, sticking your body in the line of fire, putting it all out there. We aren't going to back down to anyone.''


No comments: