After grueling season, Duke's Seth Curry has eye toward title
PHILADELPHIA -- Every weekday afternoon, the hypnotic jingle of the game show Chain Reaction ushers in the defining ritual of Duke star Seth Curry's season.
A stress fracture in Curry's right shin has kept him out of more than 75 percent of Duke's practices this season, meaning the Game Show Network in Duke's training room has provided the soundtrack of his senior year.
"You have to do something to take up the hours," Curry said. "We love Chain Reaction. Check it out. It's always fun."
When Dell Curry first heard about his son's shin injury in September, he immediately thought of Seth redshirting and petitioning for a sixth year of eligibility. Instead, Seth has spent a bizarre year with his foot mostly in a boot, his workouts primarily underwater and his mid-day entertainment revolving around screaming out answers to game show questions. His competition and companions for those endless rehab hours have been Duke trainer Jose Fonseca and rehab specialist Nick Potter.
"They're probably the people that I've seen the most this year," Curry said. "I'm going to miss them when I'm gone."
Consider Curry's senior season as an independent study in pain management. He's acing the two-semester course so far, scoring a team-high 17.3 points per game while barely practicing. Though the joke around the team is that Curry has had the ideal senior season -- all games, little practice -- he's earned the respect of teammates and staff for staying mentally engaged while being physically unable to practice.
"He's been absolutely incredible," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "I've never had to do this in my whole career, in 38 years, where a kid really has been hurt the entire season."
The unprecedented situation for Krzyzewski raised a set of intriguing questions as Curry hobbled through his senior season: How does a guard in an up-tempo offense stay in game shape without practice? How does a deft shooter keep rhythm without reps? And how do you stay mentally sharp without being physically involved?
Curry has spent much of the season staying in shape by running on an underwater treadmill in Duke's training room. Donning a pair of low-cut Nike Free running shoes, Curry is able to workout while putting only one-eighth of the normal pressure on his leg, says team doctor Claude T. Moorman III.
"It's different," Curry said. "It gets you a good workout, but it doesn't put a lot of weight on your legs. It's good cardio, but it's not a lot of pressure."
The underwater treadmill is one of the fanciest pieces of equipment in the Blue Devils training room, which underwent a nearly $1 million renovation after the 2010 national title.
"Credit Duke for biting the bullet on that one," Dell Curry said in a phone interview this week. "They've had some big players, guys they really depend on, and that pool has really saved their seasons and been important in getting them back on the floor."
It has already likely paid for itself, as Ryan Kelly and Curry have alternated in-pool reps for large chunks of this season. Kelly's right foot issue has been the other critical injury looming over Duke, and Kyrie Irving was a regular in the pool after he injured his toe during the 2010-11 season.
While on the mend, Kelly and Curry have undergone two different types of workouts. They've run both intervals -- 30 seconds of sprinting and 30 seconds of slower running. And they've also done distance running -- 20 minutes at a solid clip.
"He's even slower underwater than he is above water," Duke redshirt freshman Alex Murphy joked of Kelly.
But staying in running shape is different than staying in game shape, and that's presented a new set of challenges. Curry has had to absorb the defensive assignments, offensive adjustments and other game-plan nuances without actually going through them in practice. The challenge of his season has been mental as much as physical. Dell Curry said he sent his son a text message midway through the season that read: "I'm really proud of how tough you are mentally."
Seth Curry deflected any credit to his teammates and coaching staff for showing enough faith in him despite his physical setbacks. "They've given me a lot of leeway and put a lot of trust in me," he said. "For a guy to not be able to practice, but to have the role I have on this team, that's a lot of trust."
The Curry genes have also helped. Dell Curry established himself as one of the most reliable shooters in NBA history during his 16 year career, while Seth's older brother Stephen carried Davidson to the Elite Eight in 2008 and has emerged as one of the NBA's most prolific scorers. Seth has a similar stroke. His 42 percent three-point percentage, up four percent from last season, has come despite the ability to get shots up consistently.
"That's natural," Duke senior Mason Plumlee said. "That's genetic for him."
Curry's grueling season has provided a fitting ending to his circuitous college career. Instead of accepting a scholarship and following his brother to Davidson, he elected to go to Liberty. Stephen pushed his brother hard to choose Davidson, but said he understood Seth "not wanting to be in the shadows" of he and his father.
"I think he saw Liberty as a similar opportunity that Davison was for Stephen," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said in a phone interview.
After one year, Seth elected to transfer, and he committed to Duke soon after the Blue Devils called. He hasn't regretted a minute.
"From the first day on campus, he knew it was the right spot for him," Dell Curry said. "My wife and I knew from the lack of visits home."
In a bittersweet twist, his redshirt year came when Duke won the national title in 2010. He practiced with the team and celebrated with them, but he didn't play a minute.
Curry's first two NCAA tournaments on the floor for Duke have been disappointing. No. 15 Lehigh stunned No. 2 Duke last year in a historic upset and the top-seeded Blue Devils got upset by No. 5 Arizona in the Sweet 16 two years ago. Curry played poorly in both games, scoring just two points against Arizona and shooting 1-for-9 against Lehigh. He's talked at length to his brother about making a deep run this year.
"It would mean everything to him," Stephen Curry said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Now that he's one of the captains and leaders on the team, for him to be as much a part of their success would make all the hard work worth it."
For Curry to lead Duke further this year, his ability to recover will be critical. Plumlee called Duke's loss early in the ACC tournament "a blessing in disguise" as it gave Curry a six-day layoff before the Albany game, during which Curry shot 10-of-14 for 26 points. On one day's rest against Creighton, he shot 5-for-15. More rest for Curry this season has meant more production.
Michigan State looms Friday night in Indianapolis, and Curry will have four days rest. A potential matchup with Louisville or Oregon for a return trip the Final Four would come after that, but this time with Seth in the starting lineup instead of the scout team.
"I'm sure it would be that much sweeter if they can get it done this year," Stephen said.
And after all those hours watching the Game Show Network, Curry's payoff could soon be hearing a more appropriate jingle. The notes of "One Shining Moment" would make all those days watching Chain Reaction worthwhile.