Sunday, March 23, 2008

Stephen Curry: Davidson's Golden Boy and Future NBA Draft Steal

Yes, everyone (or someone... whoever that one lone reader of my column out there is), it's NCAA Tournament time. While I pay attention mostly to watch basketball games in which the players and coaches actually care and are trying to win for all 40 minutes of action (that's you, Isaiah Thomas - benching Zach Randolph to look at Randolph Morris?), I also watch to see if I can pick up any trends or rising stars that might someday be mailing it in on the big stage, as well as to pick up on trends within the college ranks. And this year has been absolutely rich with storylines and twists that have pretty much everybody thinking their bracket has been decapitated and left to rot by now. For me, Drew Neitzel taking down Memphis and Texas back-to-back is my only hope... Hey, it can happen.

But my focus here will be on the one team that has absolutely shocked everyone but me: Davidson. That's right, I'm the only human being outside of North Carolina who picked Davidson to win not only the Gonzaga game, but to beat Georgetown as well (my reasoning? Look at their non-conference schedule this year: lost by four to North Carolina, lost by six to Duke, lost by one to NC State, lost by twelve to UCLA, won at Winthrop by 13, undefeated in their conference - this is a good team). In the process, Davidson's golden child, Stephen Curry, has been taken away from the obscurity of the Southern Conference and thrust into the national spotlight for his lights-out jump shot, which he seems to get off in approximately .0000237 seconds. But it's not like he suddenly became good within the last few days - he averaged 25.5 points per game this year. And it's also not like he just became good this year - he averaged 21.5 points per game last year, his freshman season. But those numbers didn't do anything to remove him from the shadows of the Southern Conference, even though Davidson was in the NCAA Tournament last year, which nobody seems to remember. Only now, after canning 40 against Gonzaga (30 in the second half) and 30 against Georgetown (25 in the second half) in two winning efforts, Curry has become the talk of every confused NCAA Basketball follower in the country, wondering how one guy could propel an obscure mid-major team in an unheard of conference past the team synonymous with mid-major success and a national powerhouse in the matter of a few short days. And, beyond that, how was a guy that good not recruited by the bigger schools? After all, he had wanted to go to his father's alma mater, Virginia Tech. They're not even in the tournament, likely watching the guy they could have easily signed light up the big stage.

The answer to these questions lies in the biggest downfall of college recruiting - the one thing that gives mid-major programs like Davidson a chance to get a guy like Curry. When Curry was coming out of high school, he was 5'11'', scrawny, and looked about 8 years old (he still only looks about 12). Physically undeveloped, the big-time schools were looking for someone who was strong enough and physically built to handle the college game, and overlooked Curry. Since arriving at Davidson, the kid has already grown 4 inches to reach a respectable 6'3'', and has obviously begun to mature as a basketball player. It's not like this guy came from an obscure basketball background either - his dad is former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry. This is where colleges (and the NBA) get it wrong. They overlook guys who have simply put up numbers and won games simply because they don't appear to be of the physical build that is necessary to be a good basketball player. What they forget is that physical features develop naturally, and if the player is dedicated enough, quickly. What can't be taught or worked into a player are all those other intangibles - the work ethic that leads a kid to have such a pure shot, the mentality and desire to step up on the biggest stage there is and get better as the game goes on, to knock down shots when the team needs them the most. That's what this kid has, and that's why Davidson is winning.

Now, as someone who is more into the NBA than College Basketball, I feel obliged to mention how Curry appears to project as an NBA prospect, where he should go if he comes out of the college ranks this year, and where he would go if he comes out of the college ranks this year, and why he would slip. First, let me start by giving a comparison to guys currently in the NBA if you havn't seen Curry actually play in any of these games. He reminds me a lot of Kevin Martin, but shorter and with a faster, above-the-hip shot form (which counteracts the height difference). Martin played his ball at Western Carolina, a similarly obscure school to Davidson, and averaged high point totals from the very beginning of his career, 22.1 per game in his freshman season. The similarities between the two, unfortunately, probably will extend to the draft for Curry. NBA teams will make the same mistake as the big-time colleges did back when Curry was being recruited - pass on him for being physically undeveloped. Martin was 6'7'' and weighed just 195 pounds, and that (as well as questions regarding the talent he played against) caused him to fall to Sacramento at the 26th pick. Looking at mock drafts around the internet this year, Curry is nowhere to be found (even in the second round, which is a crime). Curry is the ranked 85th among all prospects on Chad Ford's top 100 list, being projected to go either in the late second-round, or to be undrafted. This tourney showing isn't going to give him the publicity and stock boost that will be needed for serious draft consideration, and he will be forced, like Martin, to spend his junior year in the college ranks despite being perfectly ready to enter the NBA and begin to receive the highest level of coaching and develop into a big-time scorer. But, whoever does manage to eventually pick up Curry next year will be rewarded within three years of that pick with a guy who might not be the best defender on the court, but will definitely be one of the more prolific scorers the league has. You have my not-so-expert guarantee on that.

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