Curry a marked man at LeBron camp, plus more news, notes
AKRON, Ohio -- To understand just how far Stephen Curry has come, consider that three years ago he was a 6-foot, 160-pound high school senior in Charlotte, N.C., who was having a hard time getting a scholarship offer. None of the power-conference schools were interested -- including Virginia Tech, where his father, Dell, played before moving on to the NBA. Curry ended up settling for Davidson, a Southern Conference school of 1,700 undergraduates located just outside of Charlotte.
Now fast forward to Monday night at the University Recreation Center on the campus of the University of Akron. Two of the NBA's best players, Akron native LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Orleans Hornets' Chris Paul, had joined some two dozen top collegians in full-court scrimmages during the four-day LeBron James Skills Academy hosted by Nike. Curry's team played twice against the James-and-Paul led squad and won both times. (Curry ended the first with a game-winning three-pointer.) After the session was over, Curry and James chatted by themselves at center court as if they were old chums. The two first met after the Cavaliers played in Charlotte in April, and they've had several conversations since. "We exchanged phone numbers, and I called him a couple of times during the [NBA] playoffs," Curry said. "It's pretty cool."
When I asked Curry if James ever calls him, he smiled sheepishly and said, "Nah, it's me calling him. I'm not on that level yet."
Perhaps it's just a matter of time. Curry proved during his first two years at Davidson that he is one of the top college guards in America. During his first season, he set an NCAA freshman record for made three-pointers (122), and last year he ranked fourth in the nation in scoring (25.9 ppg) before spearheading the Wildcats' storybook run to the Elite Eight. This summer, Curry is answering doubts that he can excel as a professional as well. As dozens of NBA scouts watched the collegians play in Akron this week, Curry glided around the court with his usual efficiency, drilling three-pointers, scoring on a variety of floating buckets and demonstrating that he has the ability to run a team as a point guard.
The NBA bird-dogs were impressed. One eastern conference scout compared Curry favorably to Monta Ellis, a 6-3 shooting guard who averaged 20.2 points for the Golden State Warriors last season. "You see him running through all those screens at Davidson, but out here he's doing what he wants with the ball," the scout said. "You'd have to figure out where to play him, but he'll also figure it out for himself. He has that cool, calm demeanor his dad always had, and he's bigger than most people think he is."
Indeed, Curry might have the face of a 15-year-old, but he is actually 6-3, thanks to the two-and-a-half inches he has added since entering college. He might not be done growing, either. When Curry injured his wrist in April, an X-ray revealed gaps in his bones that indicate he still has room to grow.
Then again, as the 6-foot, 175-pound Paul has shown, you don't have to great size to score in the NBA. (Paul averaged 24.1 points and 11.3 assists last season.) Nor does Paul believe Curry must play the point to succeed in the pros. "He might have to get stronger to defend those two=guards, but the way he moves without the ball is a lot like Rip Hamilton," Paul said. "I was guarding him out there today and I got tired of all that running. As long as you're effective, there's going to be a spot for you in the league."
Kansas coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks barely escaped Davidson in the Midwest regional final before going on to win the national championship, said Curry was even more impressive in person than he expected. "What I couldn't believe was his toughness and his stamina," Self said. "You look at all the games they played [in the tournament], he was better in the last five minutes than he was in the first 35. He has a great feel for how to read screens and he's a sneaky good athlete."
Since Davidson does not have summer school, Curry has been able to participate in four different Nike camps the last two weeks. When he has participated in such high-caliber events in past years, he came in as an unknown quantity trying to prove he belonged. This summer, he's a marked man, and he has noticed a difference. "I remember last year when I played in a Team USA trials, I had to introduce myself to a lot of people," Curry said. "They didn't know who I was or where Davidson was. The level of attention is a lot higher now. It feels like people want to gauge themselves against me a little more."
That will also be his reality next season. Curry will probably begin the year as a first-team All-American and Davidson, which only lost one starter from last season, will bring out the best in opposing teams and fans. Curry will also have to adjust to running the offense fulltime now that last year's point guard, Jason Richards, has graduated. And just like last season, Davidson coach Bob McKillop has assembled a formidable non-conference schedule that includes appearances in the early-season NIT and the Jimmy V Classic as well as games against Duke, N.C. State and Purdue. "We're not going to shy away from it," Curry said of the expectations. "Last year, coach told us that we had a bullseye on our back because of our success the previous year. So we know the interest is going to get even bigger for us. We're ready."
When I asked Paul what advice he would give Curry, he replied, "Stay hungry. He's got all this high visibility now and everybody's going to be watching him. So he has to show 'em why they're watching."
Curry also might want to keep his cell phone nearby. LeBron could be calling any day now.