The Next Step For Steph
Davidson's Stephen Curry was the breakout star of the Big Dance, but even after hobnobbing with LeBron, he's still adjusting to his sudden celebrity -- and to his new position
DANICA AND ANNIKA may sound like a Saturday Night Live duo on the order of Hans and Franz, but during a midsummer night in Los Angeles they induced schoolboy panic in Davidson guard Stephen Curry, the baby-faced breakout star of March Madness. When Danica Patrick and Annika Sorenstam, glammed-up for the ESPY Awards, stepped into his hotel elevator on their way to the show, they instantly recognized their fellow nominee and said hello. Betraying little of the cold-blooded shooter who lit up Gonzaga, Georgetown, Wisconsin and Kansas for 128 points during the NCAA tournament, Curry melted like, well, a starstruck college kid.
"Here are two great-looking ladies I'd seen on TV," says Curry, a five-handicap golfer who'd admired Sorenstam for years. "But I started stuttering because I was all nervous. My dad was laughing at me."
Welcome to the new life of Wardell Stephen Curry II -- or simply Steph, if you'd like -- who still can't grasp that now he's one of them. After deciding against turning pro so he could prove his bona fides as a point guard, the 6'3", 182-pound Curry returns for his junior season with his size-14 feet planted in two worlds. In one he plays for Davidson, a small Southern Conference school in a North Carolina town so old-fashioned that students gather at The Soda Shop on Main Street. In the other he visits New York City to appear on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In one he snaps surreptitious fan-boy photos of Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning eating breakfast at a buffet in L.A. In the other he's fast friends with his new supporter, LeBron James, who made a special trip to Detroit's Ford Field to see Curry play in the tournament.
"I love basketball, and I'm a fan first," says James, who also hung out with Curry at James's skills camp in July. "Anytime you get an opportunity to see somebody who's very talented, you want to reach out to them. I'm looking forward to seeing him more this year and welcoming him to the league next year."
Nobody would have expected that endorsement three years ago, when Curry was a 6-foot, 160-pound senior at Charlotte Christian School who didn't receive any scholarship offers from major-conference schools. (The snubs included one by Virginia Tech, where Curry's father, Dell, set the career scoring record before embarking on a 16-year NBA career.) But the big boys' loss was Davidson's gain. Under coach Bob McKillop, Curry set an NCAA freshman record for three-pointers (122), and as a sophomore he was the nation's fourth-leading scorer (25.9 points per game). But that was only a prelude to the storybook run last March, when the 10th-seeded Wildcats knocked off the champions of the West Coast, Big East and Big Ten conferences and came within a missed buzzer-beater of toppling Kansas, the eventual national champ, and reaching the Final Four.
Curry's mother, Sonya, can't forget her own shock after Davidson's comeback from a 17-point deficit against Georgetown. As her son turned to look at her in the stands and shrugged, "It hit me: He was truly that good," says Sonya, who became a favorite of CBS cameramen. "We'd heard so much about how he needed to be bigger. But then he made those shots and looked at me, and I thought, What in the world is going on?"
"Daddy," Curry's 13-year-old sister, Sydell, told Dell, a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, "Stephen made you famous again."
ONLY THREE of the six ceiling fans are functioning on a boiling July afternoon in the upper gym of Roanoke College. The youngsters at this small basketball camp in Salem, Va., are getting a special treat: Their celebrity counselor, Steph Curry, is playing in a five-on-five scrimmage. Working at quarter-speed on a small-fry defender who's wearing a T-shirt bearing his autograph, Curry throws a pass that sails over a teammate's head. "C'mon, man!" jokes a fellow counselor. "He's 4-foot-2 with a two-inch vertical!"
Everyone laughs. Over the summer Curry attended high-profile camps hosted by NBA A-listers -- James, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash -- but here in a sweltering gym in the glitz-free Shenandoah Valley he's in his element. "I used to come to this camp when I was in fourth through sixth grade, but this is the first year I've worked it," says Curry, who spent two weeks at the camp run by Page Moir, the respected coach of Division III Roanoke. "It's cool to be at the other end of the experience."
Curry's unassuming nature is of a piece with the Davidson Way. A college of 1,700 students 23 miles north of Charlotte, Davidson is the kind of place where almost nobody locks their doors, and (shock of shocks) the basketball players take all of their classes with the rest of the undergrads. "If you had a roster of every student, I probably would know a little something about each one of them," Curry says. "After a game we'll go to the student union and just walk around. Everyone will be talking about the game, and it's not random people you've never seen on campus. You know their names. That's a special thing."