New book tells story of Davidson’s magical NCAA run
By Bret Strelow
Davidson graduate Michael Kruse showed up in Raleigh nine months ago as an interested alum with a thirst for compelling action.
Now he’s the author of a book about the Wildcats’ memorable run through the NCAA tournament.
And Stephen Curry isn’t even on the cover.
“Taking the Shot: The Davidson Basketball Moment” chronicles the school’s march to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats came within one basket of upsetting eventual national champion Kansas, but point guard Jason Richards missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.An image of Richards preparing to take that final shot graces the cover.
I’ve known Kruse, a St. Petersburg Times staff writer, for nearly a decade and have always admired his talent as a reporter and storyteller. He was in Charlotte recently for Davidson’s game against N.C. State at Time Warner Cable Arena, where we discussed his book and Davidson basketball. He also corresponded with me from New York, where the Wildcats beat West Virginia in a nationally televised game. They open Southern Conference play today at home against Chattanooga.
The book is available at sites such as Amazon.com, http://16point8.com and http://www.butlerbooks.com/tashdabamo.html.
The book is also on sale now at Davidson’s college bookstore, Main Street Books in Davidson, Park Road Books in Charlotte and The Open Book in Greenville, S.C.
Q: I saw you in Raleigh for the opening rounds (of the NCAAs). At what point did you think the subject could make for a good book?
A: I started thinking about it after the win over Georgetown, but I wanted to wait to see when the run would end, and how. After the loss to Kansas, after Jason Richards took and missed that last shot, I drove from Detroit to Pittsburgh with a Davidson friend ó he lives there, and I had a flight out of there early the next morning ó and on that long night I certainly wasn’t thinking about any kind of book.
Two days later, though, I read something on the message board at DavidsonCats.com from a poster calling himself Splinter Faction. His real name is William Robertson. At that time I didn’t know him, had never met him, but I tracked him down with the help of the message board administrators. What he had written moved me, and we talked about that for a bit on the phone, and who he was, and why he had written that post.
Q: Davidson made such a great run, and I think the casual fan looks at the missed shot against Kansas as an unhappy ending, but you took a different approach. Can you explain?A: William is Davidson Class of ’75, and is now the chaplain at the state mental hospital in Morganton, and his post was one of the most thoughtful, most beautiful things I’ve ever read. I read it still.
He quoted Teddy Roosevelt:
“… those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat …”
He quoted Faulkner in “Intruder in the Dust”:
“… all this much to lose and all this much to gain …”
Some of William’s words:
“Jason took the shot because he had the nerve to do it and, I suspect, because he trusted the coach and his teammates to continue to love him if he missed the shot.”
“… in that moment, we had in our hearts and minds … the joy of having it go in. Before it was not in, it was as good as in. For that fraction of a second, we had that experience, and it is enough.”
Reading that post, last spring, probably about 36 hours after Jason’s shot, it helped me see in the Davidson basketball story, not just in 2008, but the McKillop era as a whole, one of the great archetypes ó the value of the journey, not the destination; the pursuit, not the result.
“He trusted,” William wrote about Jason, “and all we can do is be sure our reaction is worthy of that trust.”
This book, I guess, is my very small part of that wider, collective reaction.
Q: Most of us with an interest know about Stephen Curry’s bloodlines, his friendship with LeBron, so on and so forth. What’s something most of us don’t know about Stephen?A: He has a tattoo.
I’m surprised more people haven’t talked about this. … The tattoo is new. He got it this fall, and it’s so Stephen ó small, plain font, on the inside of his left wrist:
TCC means trust, commitment, care ó the Davidson program’s longtime mantra.
*Q: Is he in danger of being overexposed?A: Yes and no.
Some of the coverage after this week’s game at the Garden was of a different, more over-the-top, even unprecedented sort, I thought, but that was just a function of the late shots and (more than even that) the location. You do something in New York, anything, and there’s far more pub than if it had happened in Des Moines.
But here’s the thing about Stephen and Davidson: They play pretty much their last high-profile regular-season game on Jan. 7 ó at Duke, on ESPN ó and then for the casual fan, at least until March, they kind of disappear.
Conference play isn’t easy, not in the Southern Conference, not in any conference, because that’s where your opponents really know you. But Davidson’s league slate means games on MASN or SportSouth, not ESPN, which means that by, say, late February, the casual college hoops fan will be tired (again) of Tyler Hansbrough, not Stephen Curry.
Q: George Mason made its run to the Final Four, but it’s not like blue-chip recruits suddenly started picking George Mason over the Dukes and North Carolinas. Is it possible for Bob McKillop to use this success as a springboard for an already successful program even if there aren’t more Stephen Currys out there?A: Post player Frank Ben-Eze committed to Davidson last spring over Georgia Tech. He’s a freshman this year. Post player Jake Cohen committed to Davidson this fall over Stanford. He’ll be a freshman next year. So Davidson’s recruiting has changed somewhat since last March and because of the run.
At the same time, though, there are a number of things that won’t change at Davidson: The admissions office still lets in a quarter of the kids who apply. The basketball team still gets on a bus much more than on a plane.
Recruiting is hard. It will stay hard.
And let’s be honest: George Mason didn’t start stealing kids from Duke and Carolina because Duke and Carolina are in the ACC and George Mason is not. And neither is Davidson. And that’s okay.
Davidson, I think, under Bob McKillop, can and will stay very, very good for the foreseeable future. Elite Eight good? That’s a high bar for any program, in any league, anywhere.
As for any other Stephen Currys out there? I don’t think Stephen Currys come along all that often. Not for Davidson. Not for anybody.
Q: More people started to hear Jason Richards’ story as last year progressed. I think people are starting to learn about Andrew Lovedale, who is from Nigeria and is relatively inexperienced as a basketball player. Can he be the Robin to Curry’s Batman this year?A: Yes.
And I don’t think he’s the only Wildcat who can be Robin. Will Archambault, Bryant Barr, Steve Rossiter, the rapidly improving Ben Allison n I think all of them can be Robins on any given night.
Andrew is a great, great story, and I hope that as the season goes on some people with pens and pads and microphones might come to Davidson or to a Davidson game and acknowledge No. 30, sure, but also spend some more time getting to know Andrew. He’s a pretty special kid too.
Q: The times I’ve heard (Bob) McKillop speak, he seems to have a certain confidence or cockiness, but I’m struck by his intelligence and the almost poetic way he goes about describing moments or players. In what ways is he different than the standard college coach?A: Confidence, yes, but I think most of the cockiness went away a decade and a half ago, after his 4-24, 10-19, 11-17 start to his career at Davidson.
The biggest, most important way he’s different from most college coaches, at least in my mind, is his longevity. He’s in his 20th season at Davidson. It’s not just where he works. It’s his home. It’s his family’s home. He knows what kinds of kids will work as basketball players at Davidson and what kinds of kids won’t.
That kind of stability that kind of seamlessness between coach and college ó gives Davidson’s basketball program advantages I believe are rare in the world of college sports.