Staying Stephen

Last March, Davidson's Stephen Curry became an instant national celebrity. Now he returns for his junior season, and the hype is building. How will this story end?


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(page 4 of 4)

 

THE NATIONAL MEDIA are going to do what they do. In July, Grant Wahl, the college basketball writer for Sports Illustrated, came to town. He talked with some of the guys. He met with McKillop. He had beers at the Brick House. The story ran in the magazine in September. That was just the beginning.

Stephen is now 6-foot-3 and change. He's not done growing.

Davidson opens the season with the preseason NIT in Oklahoma in November. The team plays Purdue in Indianapolis and West Virginia in Madison Square Garden in December. Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in January. Then March.

That's a lot of TV time for Davidson.

Stephen in last year's tournament was an exceptional example of an unexceptional thing: one of the most reliable (and recyclable) characters in our sports culture, the previously unknown March Madness star. Those guys pop up, just about every year, and then they're gone. We chew 'em up. We spit 'em out. Two things are different about Stephen: (1) he wasn't just a one-game or even one-weekend curiosity, and (2) he's still here.

So what now?

What do we do with him?

Davidson doesn't want to promote him at the expense of the team. McKillop preaches team, always has, and his guys believe it. That includes Stephen. The team, after all, finished last season ranked ninth in the nation, which, when you think about it, for a school with 1,700 students, is pretty much absurd. This past July, though, associate head coach Matt Matheny was at a recruiting event in South Carolina, and a woman sitting next to him looked at his shirt—DAVIDSON, it said on the chest—and she looked at him, and said, "Oh, Stephen Curry."
Davidson can't control that.

The school had a full-page ad for season tickets in the Observer in September: "30 Reasons to Experience Davidson." Most of the reasons weren't specifically about Stephen. But the biggest image in the ad was of him.

Still, the institutional inclination is to protect him more than promote him, and I think Stephen appreciates that. He sees campus as a haven.

At least most of the time.

In late August a thread popped up on the fan forum at DavidsonCats.com. It was called "Read this—It will make you proud" and was by a poster known as "JerseyLaywer," who in real life is Steven Suflas, class of '73. He's an attorney outside Philadelphia.

"Last Wednesday night," he wrote, "we arrived to move in my youngest daughter as a member of the Class of 2012. As with every year, a group of upper class volunteers were present to help with the actual 'heavy lifting' of freshman gear. After we dropped her stuff outside the basement of Belk, I moved the car to a remote parking area.

"As I was walking back up past Little, I passed the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Midwest Regional, heroically trying to carry an incoming freshman's refrigerator up the hill all by himself. I grabbed half of the refrigerator to help and told him how proud he made us all, since at any other school, five kids would be carrying his stuff, instead of him carrying a stranger's stuff. Steph was as humble and polite as you would expect."

I called Stephen to ask him if that's how it happened. He said it was more or less. He said he and Steve Rossiter, his teammate and roommate, had signed up to help on what's known as the orientation team. That's what students on the orientation team do: they cart TVs and dorm fridges and bookshelves into new students' rooms. There were hundreds of students on the orientation team. Stephen was one of them. What he was doing was by definition ordinary.

And yet the reaction on DavidsonCats.com included the following posts.

"We are witness to something very special."

"Amen."

"!!!!!!!"

This needs to be said out loud: the only thing that was out of the ordinary about that act was who was doing it. That was the perception. Implicit in that perception is the tacit belief that he is different. Separate. Even if he doesn't want to be. This is when that "of"-ness starts to change, not because of anything he's doing, but because of something we are doing.

Rossiter watched the faces of the freshmen whose cars they approached, and even the faces of the parents of the freshmen, and there often was a moment of surprise, he said, when they realized they were being helped by Stephen Curry. "Like he wasn't human," Rossiter told me. Rossiter saw something important. In a way, for those freshmen and their parents, and unlike most of the rest of the people on campus, he wasn't human.

They had "met" Stephen already, last March, on CBS.

That screen was there.

Not long ago, Stephen told me he had noticed some of the freshmen, at least earlier this fall, taking pictures of him with their cell phones. Weird, he thought. I asked him what he does when those kinds of things happen on campus.

His answer?

He introduces himself.

Michael Kruse is a staff writer for the St. Petersburg Times. His book about the 2008 Davidson tournament run, Taking The Shot, will be published later this year by Butler Books.

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