The Eiber Report: Stephen Curry Handling Adversity

Bruce EiberContributor IJanuary 29, 2009

With the NCAA tournament only a little over a month away, college basketball fans will begin to focus on the march to madness, who gets in and who doesn’t,  the sleepers, Cinderella teams and upsets.   There was no better story last year than small Davidson College of North Carolina and their star guard, Stephen Curry. 

Curry’s career is more than anything a lesson in handling adversity than about basketball.  In high school Curry did not have the prototype D-1 college body.  Slight of frame with borderline college height, like many America teenage boys, Curry idolized his father, Dell Curry, who played collegiately at Virginia Tech before a long and well respected career as an NBA sharpshooter.

In fact, until Michael Vick came along, Dell may well have been the most well known person to attend the university located in Blacksburg, Virginia.  More than anything, Stephen wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and play for Va. Tech.  There have been lots of stories and speculation regarding his recruitment or lack thereof by the basketball program at VTU. 

The coach of Virginia Tech is Seth Greenberg.  Greenberg is from Plainview, a bedroom community on New York’s Long Island for those readers from out of state, where he was a pretty good high school player along with his brother Brad.  Greenberg paid his dues before arriving in Virginia and has had to deal with coaching and recruiting at a university with more negative publicity than any school in recent memory.

Coaching in the ACC is tough enough and recruiting against Duke, Carolina, Wake, NC State, et. al., can cause nightmares.  Greenberg is a very good coach.  His record speaks for itself.  A head coaching job in the ACC is not an entry level position. 

But the fact remains, that Seth Greenberg did not have a scholarship for Stephen Curry.  Virginia Tech had no real interest in Curry.  They did meet with him out of courtesy to his father but the session must have been awkward. 

Curry could have enrolled and played or rather been on the roster as a walk on.  D-1 schools are filled with walk ons who may have been all conference players in high school but few ever play any meaningful minutes.  No doubt Curry was promised he could earn a scholarship.  I do not believe the NCAA keeps statistics on players who are truly walk ons and actually earn a scholarship but there are very few.   

Greenberg defended his failure to recruit a player he didn’t have to recruit by saving face the best he could.  He has told the press that at least he went to visit and talk to Curry unlike any other ACC school.  Undoubtedly, he breathed a sigh of relief when Curry did not attend.

One can hardly blame Greenberg, since no one was knocking down the Curry family front door to offer.  This is where the feel good part of the story comes in.  If Charles Kuralt was still “On the Road” on Sunday mornings one place he might stop would be small town America’s Davidson, North Carolina.  Davidson is a college town.  The college is called Davidson College, not Davidson University. 

DC is one of the smallest D-1 schools in the NCAA with fewer than two-thousand students.  They are members of the Southern Conference, a league that has a post season tournament each year.  The winner gets an automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament.  All other teams in the conference do not receive consideration for an at large invitation.  Until last year, very few people heard of DC. 

High school guidance counselors know Davidson as one of the most respected small colleges in America.  DC’s academic reputation is at the highest level.  Athletes must meet the same rigorous standards as non athletes when applying for admission. 

Davidson’s basketball coach is another Long Islander, Bob McKillop.  The Curry story is as much about McKillop as it is about Stephen.  McKillop had a vision when he saw Stephen Curry play basketball.  So did his assistant coach, Jim Fox, Jr., whose father runs Island Garden Basketball and adds yet the third Long Island connection to this saga. 

McKillop offered Curry a basketball scholarship to Davidson College.  DC plays within a system that best uses all the player’s talents to the best of their abilities.  Last year as a sophomore, Curry electrified the nation as DC stunned three powerhouses, Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before a heartbreaking last second loss to eventual National Champion Kansas in the Elite Eight. 

Curry could play.  He knew it, his father knew it and thank goodness that Bob McKillop and his staff knew it or America never would have seen the brilliance of Stephen Curry.  Last year he may have been the best shooter in the country with virtually unlimited range.  This season, McKillop has moved him to the point where he may be the best passer in D-1.  He leads the country in scoring. 

Stephen Curry, who reportedly received only one other D-1 offer other than Davidson, is a lock first team AP All American who would clearly have my vote for player of the year.  Curry benefited from the wisdom of Coach McKillop who must be scratching his head that he was one of two head coaches to envision such an obvious talent. 

While coaches drool over the possibility of landing an AAU bred, fundamentally unsound, “take it to the hole” high scorer, McKillop recruits sound, committed student athletes.  The Wildcats practice and play hard and then study. 

While this is such a great “feel good” story it is not unprecedented.  More than 30 years ago a tall kid from a small town in Indiana dreamed of playing for the Hoosiers of Indiana University.  The kid had a legendary local reputation but to play for Bobby Knight one has to fit a certain mold. 

When he arrived on campus one can only imagine how fast Knight’s face reddened in anger.  The kid was tall but couldn’t run very fast.  His hair was too long, he didn’t have clear skin and the girls were not lining up to hold his hand.  He threw behind the back and no look passes and always seemed to be diving on the floor.  He couldn’t jump and talked too slow. 

The freshman had a goofy name. He came to Bloomington after working on a garbage truck.  He had already fathered a child.   IU is playing for the national title every year.  This was not a kid who could help them get there.  “Give me back my scholarship.”  Puff, like the wind he was gone. 

Yet, Larry Bird overcame adversity.  He took a shot with Indiana State, a small college in northeastern Indiana.  It was his third college.  Bird led them undefeated to the NCAA finals where they lost to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State.  After a long professional Hall of Fame career with the Celtics, Bird may be the greatest forward in the history of the game.  He always took the high road and has said publicly he would have had no problem playing for Coach Knight. 

Curry is a highly motivated player with an intense desire to win and improve, much like Bird.  They both are known for their respect for the game and their ability to overcome adversity.  I doubt that Seth Greenberg or any of the other coaches mentioned will ever read this report and I’m sure if they did they would refute much of it or dismiss it in its entirety.  “This guy doesn’t know what he is talking about.” 

Nevertheless, if you know a young player who is riding the pine or told he is too small or “maybe next year,” tell him about too small, too frail Stephen Curry, the All American who found a coach who gave him a chance.

Bruce Eiber
Island Garden Basketball
Long Island Lightning Basketball