College Basketball: Davidson ready for encore
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Stephen Curry thought it was a little odd when coach Bob McKillop began Davidson’s opening practice last month by putting 16 seconds on the clock.
“I brought it up and we didn’t even run a special play,” Curry recalled Thursday. “We ran our secondary offense. I think I hit a buzzer-beater in the corner. After I found out why we did it I was kind of mad. It just showed what coach had been thinking about all offseason.”
McKillop later told his players he had recreated the final 16 seconds of the NCAA Midwest Regional final, a sequence that ended with departed senior Jason Richards ó not Curry ó taking and missing a 3-pointer at the buzzer in a 59-57 loss to eventual champion Kansas that ended the Wildcats’ storybook run.
“I wanted to show our guys: Trust the system, that the system can manufacture the basket,” McKillop said. “We don’t need any magical play. Just be who we are and stay with what we are.”
What Davidson is this year is no longer Cinderella. With the dynamic Curry back after one of the most dazzling performances in NCAA tournament history, the tiny liberal arts schools is ranked No. 20 in the preseason coaches poll, and was the overwhelming pick Thursday by Southern Conference coaches to repeat as division champion.
But before Davidson embarks on another difficult schedule that includes the NIT Season Tip-Off, a trip to Duke and neutral court games against West Virginia, Purdue and North Carolina State, McKillop wanted to first revisit the heartbreaking end to March’s magical ride.
“We made the shot this time,” said Curry, who scored 128 points in four NCAA tournament games. “Looking back, we always can second guess the play you should have called or what you should have done differently. We moved on, but we’re actually trying to learn from that experience.”
Now Davidson is preparing for the tall task of trying to improve on last season, which would require reaching the Final Four.
“It kind of brings thoughts about that shot against Kansas,” Curry said. “It’s definitely pretty cool to have that as a plateau to reach. We’re not going to go into the season thinking it’ll be a disappointing season if we don’t make the Final Four, but we’re going to use the confidence and experience we got from last year in those situations to help us this year.”
Curry, who grew slightly and gained weight, will be a legitimate 6-foot-3, 185-pound point guard this season. With Richards graduated, McKillop shifted Curry from shooting guard to the playmaking role.
“I’m definitely making mistakes, but I’m learning from them,” Curry said. “It’s fun to attack this challenge in practice.”
Davidson is also looking to replace big man Thomas Sander. Andrew Lovedale, who came on late in the year, could get some help from freshman Frank Ben-Eze, whom McKillop expects to be ready to play in December as he recovers from knee surgery.
But the offense will again run through Curry, who set the NCAA single-season record with 162 3-pointers last season and ranked fourth nationally in scoring at 25.9 points per game.
In a busy summer that included basketball camps and celebrity appearances, Curry worked on his ball-handling ó and his youthful look. He’s grown a thin mustache and goatee.
“I’m just trying to grow up a little bit,” Curry said.
That prospect produced some nervous faces on opposing coaches at Thursday’s Southern Conference media day. The Wildcats, 43-1 in the league in the past two years, were picked to finish ahead of Bobby Cremins’ College of Charleston in the North Division. Chattanooga, which hosts the league tournament, was picked to win the North ahead of Elon.
“I used to go out in the summertime and people would say, ‘What conference are you in?’ I’d say Southern Conference and they would say, ‘Who’s in that conference?”‘ Cremins said. “Now I just say, ‘We’re in the same conference as Davidson.’ ”
But with Curry’s quick release and deadeye touch, Davidson remains in a different classification. But before the Wildcats try to top last season’s run, McKillop wanted to make sure they knew how close they came to knocking off the eventual national champions ó even if it meant grumbling from his players.
“I wish I would have missed the shot,” Curry said, shaking his head.