College Basketball: Curry adjusts to the point
By Mike Cranston
DAVIDSON ó After becoming the lead star in college basketball’s feel-good story, Stephen Curry spent the summer on the talk show circuit, attending prestigious camps and mingling with A-list types.
Yet the baby-faced, reserved Curry still had a hard time accepting his newfound celebrity after leading tiny Davidson within a missed 3-pointer of the Final Four.
“At the ESPYs, during the intermission I was on my way to the bathroom and Terrell Owens was coming in,” Curry said. “I had a hesitation to say hi so I kept walking. He stopped me and said, ‘Congrats on the season. You’re a heck of a player.’ I looked around to make sure he was talking to me. It was pretty cool.”
Get used to it, kid.
Curry enters this season as a first-team Associated Press All-America, Davidson is ranked 20th, and Owens, his new buddy LeBron James and plenty other famous observers are eager to see how the slender 6-foot-3 junior adjusts to moving to point guard.
If his coach is right, Curry could even top his remarkable performance of last season, when he averaged 32 points in the NCAA tournament and hit 23 of 51 3-pointers.
“If you see him today and you compare him to where he is today and where he was back in March, he’s a much better player,” Bob McKillop said.
To think Curry could be better than last season leaves opposing coaches quivering.
“Personally, I wish he would have turned pro,” joked Bobby Cremins, the coach at College of Charleston who will have to face Curry twice in Southern Conference play. “But it’s great for our league. “It’s one of the great stories of college basketball.”
Curry’s emergence from a recruit considered too small for the big schools into one of the game’s best pure shooters helped carry Davidson to last season’s remarkable NCAA tournament run. Davidson mowed down the elite teams of the sport as Curry Fever gripped the country.
There was his 40-point performance against Gonzaga. Then he scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half in a stunning comeback over Georgetown. Curry scored 33 more in a win over Wisconsin, with James, the Cleveland Cavaliers star, sitting behind the Davidson bench so he could get a firsthand look at “the kid.”
Then came the Midwest Regional final, when Curry scored 25 points against Kansas, but never got the ball on the last possession. Point guard Jason Richards instead launched a 3-pointer that bounced off the rim at the buzzer in a 59-57 loss to the eventual national champions.
The last play ate at Curry and the Wildcats so much that McKillop opened the team’s first practice last month with 16 seconds on the clock.
Curry brought the ball up the floor this time ó and hit a buzzer-beater.
It was part of Curry’s new role. He’s running the point now because Richards, who led the nation in assists last season, has graduated.
“The most important aspect of being a point guard is being a decision maker,” said McKillop, beginning his 20th year at the liberal arts school. “Jason Richards was magnificent as a decision maker. Steph Curry is evolving as a great decision maker. The difference between Jason Richards and Steph Curry is that many of the decisions Steph Curry can make and should make are for him to shoot the ball.”
While Curry hasn’t lost that tremendous touch and lightning-quick release, he acknowledges it’s an adjustment moving from a shooting guard who was constantly running off screens to bringing the ball up the floor and starting the play himself. Curry scored 41 points, but also committed eight turnovers, in Davidson’s lone exhibition game against Division II Lenoir-Rhyne.
“Rarely last year did I find myself on the wings holding the ball with a dribble,” Curry said. “So it’s different coming off screens and seeing the offense with the ball in my hand and having to be on the attack at all times and handle pressure.”
One of his main screeners from last year has also graduated. Thomas Sander’s departure leaves the athletic Andrew Lovedale and steady Steve Rossiter as the leaders of the frontcourt. Freshman Frank Ben-Eze is expected to make a major contribution when he returns from knee surgery early next month.
Curry’s backcourt mate will be Max Paulhus Gosselin, a gritty defender who has been shadowing Curry in practice to get him ready for the rigors of the regular season. Conventional wisdom is that teams will try to press Davidson early and often to try to tire out the 185-pound Curry.
“All I know is that Bobby McKillop is a great coach, and he’s not playing the point unless it’s going to help the team and him,” Cremins said. “So don’t let it fool you, because Bobby knows what he’s doing.”
Curry’s move to point guard was endorsed by his father, former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, who has also taken a backseat to his favorite-of-the-stars son. Stephen Curry acknowledged with a shrug that he’s recognized more than his dad when they’re together nowadays.
“I’d say about 90 percent of the time it’s me first,” Curry said. “He makes jokes out of it, so it makes it a lot better.”