Saturday, March 29, 2008

From New York Times

A Long Trip to the Brink of History for Davidson
Published: March 30, 2008

DETROIT — The players, coaches, cheerleaders and band members of Davidson are staying at a suburban hotel called the Dearborn Inn, built by Henry Ford, who also built behind it replicas of the historic homes of Patrick Henry, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe.

In the bright Michigan sunlight early Saturday, a few older Davidson fans, clad in the team color of red, strolled among the homes, gazing at them, seemingly impressed and intrigued. It was as if American history had come alive before them.

When the Davidson fans assemble again at Ford Field on Sunday to see their 10th-seeded Wildcats play top-seeded Kansas in the final of the Midwest Region, they hope to see history of a modern kind made by a college with 1,700 students.

Led by the sharpshooter Stephen Curry, the son of the former N.B.A. player Dell Curry, the Wildcats (29-6) have won 25 consecutive games. If they beat Kansas (34-3) to reach the Final Four, it will be an upset of historic significance.

The Jayhawks seem like a much better team. They clobbered Villanova on Friday night, 72-57, hours after Davidson upset Wisconsin, 73-56. The Jayhawks appear bigger, tougher, more balanced and deeper than Davidson and come from the Big 12, a power conference.

Kansas has reached the Final Four 12 times and has won 2 national championships. Davidson is from the Southern Conference, a midmajor circuit. The Wildcats have never been in the Final Four.

Davidson lost its only two previous regional finals, in 1968 and 1969. So it seemed appropriate to ask Brandon Rush, a Kansas star, if he was concerned about a less-heralded opponent with momentum at its back and an upset on its mind.

“Yeah, it does kind of worry me a little bit because they are really hot right now,” Rush said. “And Stephen Curry is probably the best player in the tournament right now. We’re going to have our hands full.”

Curry and his teammates will be cheered by a new influx of fans to join the small but vocal group already here. Martin McCann, the director of marketing for Davidson, said five more buses had been chartered to carry students on the 10-hour trip to Sunday’s game.

They will join the 400 students who rode on seven buses for Friday’s game. The money for the trip — buses, hotel rooms, tickets — was provided by the college’s Board of Trustees, McCann said, from personal donations, not from the general fund.

Guard Jason Richards was asked to compare this team to George Mason, which lost in the Final Four two years ago. He rejected the comparison. “We’re Davidson,” he said. “We’re trying to make our own history.”

When Saturday’s news conference turned to the X-and-O fundamentals, players and coaches of both teams said the 6-foot-3 Curry, a sophomore, excelled in part because his teammates set complicated screens for him to duck and dart behind.

Curry needs only a moment to fire the pretty shot he learned from his father, who played 16 professional seasons. Stephen Curry said he was overlooked by recruiters for top basketball programs because he was only 5-7 as a high school junior.

Davidson Coach Bob McKillop said he welcomed advice from Curry’s father and often sought it.

Dell Curry said: “I would never infringe on the coaches. But it’s fun to share some of my insights when they ask.”

He was asked how much of his son’s skill was innate and how much was learned from him.

“When he was young, we worked on fundamentals and mechanics and shooting,” the elder Curry said. “But at some point, every young player has to be committed and dedicated. He has the work ethic.”

Dell Curry said he was enjoying his son’s success because he never had the same success at Virginia Tech. “This is what every father wishes for,” he said.

Stephen Curry has 103 points in three tournament games. Against Wisconsin, he scored 33, including six 3-pointers and a reverse layup off the glass on a baseline cut that dazzled even LeBron James, who sat near the court and said, “Wow!”

Russell Robinson, a top Kansas defender, seemed to dismiss some of Curry’s success. “Coach gives him the green light to knock down shots,” he said. “His teammates are behind him. Once you get those two things down pat, anybody can knock it down.”

When asked about Robinson’s comments, Curry said, “It’s just his opinion,” and conceded that he benefited from Davidson’s system. “I haven’t showed much of a one-on-one skill game kind of thing because that’s not what we needed,” he said.

Max Paulhus Gosselin, a defense-minded junior guard from Quebec, called the Davidson system “organized freedom.” Of Curry, he said: “Even if his nickname on the team is now Prime Time, he’s able to keep his head normal size.”

Back at the Dearborn Inn, where even staff members were wearing red and white T-shirts showing support for Davidson, the fans were milling about the lobby, giddy about their circumstances, greeting each other with squeals and hugs.

Some seemed to forget where they were. A woman walked up to the front desk and asked for a newspaper. “Do you have The Charlotte Observer?” she asked. No, she was told. “Would you like The Detroit Free Press?”

She bought one and joined dozens of her fellow travelers who sat and stood around the ornate furniture reading about their team’s victory the previous night. It was as if they had to see it in print to confirm that it was true.

Up in the fitness center, cheerleaders ran on the treadmills and a television blared in the corner. When it emitted the word “Davidson,” a few men gathered around it to hear Dick Vitale and Bob Knight on ESPN.

They stood silently, listening raptly. The basketball experts spoke of Davidson in the context of a possible trip to the Final Four. Two of the men looked at each other, smiled and shook their heads as if in disbelief. But it was on television; it had to be true.

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