At close-knit Davidson, humble Curry just one the guys ... sort of
DAVIDSON, N.C. -- North Carolina senior Tyler Hansbrough is the most recognizable player in college basketball this season.
Davidson junior Stephen Curry isn't far behind.
Hansbrough won player of the year honors last April and the forward is on the verge of breaking records at Carolina and in the ACC and might collect plenty more awards, including the most coveted prize -- a national title ring. But do you think North Carolina is getting many requests for Hansbrough to appear at birthday parties for six- and seven-year-olds? Do you think he's getting stopped constantly by local businessmen who want him to come by the store?
Probably not, considering North Carolina is used to having a new star player every other year or so for the past 30 years and does as good a job of shielding a player from excess attention as any other school in the country.[+] EnlargeDavidson AthleticsStephen Curry, signing autographs on the far left, is always available to fans.
Chapel Hill isn't starstruck. Davidson might be.
"We've had to put the brakes on him because he's such a willing partner for every opportunity and invitation,'' Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "We've had to corral him and not let him extend himself as much as he can.''
Curry's fame at Davidson is something akin to Adam Morrison's rock-star status at Gonzaga three years ago. Think Davidson, and Curry is the first name that comes up. He may also be the only name, unless you are well versed in McKillop's act -- McKillop is clearly one of the lesser-known, well-respected head coaches in the country.
The reason for Curry's beloved status was well documented last March. Curry was magnificent in leading the Wildcats to an Elite Eight finish and within one shot of knocking off eventual national champion Kansas. Curry's shooting display in the NCAAs was epic. He scored 40 points to beat Gonzaga in Round 1, followed by 30 to upset Georgetown and another 30 to beat Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. His 25 points helped push Kansas to the brink of elimination in a 59-57 Jayhawks win in Detroit.
Curry's infectious smile, his boyish looks and his NBA father -- Dell, a beloved former Charlotte Hornet -- helped Stephen's star rise locally.
But Curry had no idea he would become the face of the school this offseason. Not just the face of the program, but the school.
"It's weird, man,'' Curry said. "It's strange. I grew up in Charlotte, living under the umbrella of my dad -- the last Hornet who was the face of Charlotte for a while. I don't know how to explain it. I'm still amazed when people tell me that you put 'Davidson' in Google and the fourth option is my name.''
Life is good for Steph here, that's for sure.
--Max Paulhus Gosselin, on Stephen Curry
It's actually third: "About Davidson," "Admission/Financial Aid" and then "Stephen Curry '10.''
Going out for dinner or grabbing lunch, lately, Curry can't get through a meal without someone coming up to talk hoops. Getting out of his car in his hometown, he is sure to get a business card. Curry said he finds it entertaining.
"A year or two ago, nobody stopped or said hi,'' Curry said.
Runners for agents know better than to harass his family since Curry's father was in the NBA. But that doesn't stop Curry from getting flooded by runners through e-mail or Facebook.
"There are lots of guys out of college trying to be agents and they think, 'I can get this guy,' sending me messages since anybody can get on the profile,'' Curry said. Post-tournament, Curry said he had 10,000 friend requests on Facebook. "[Facebook is] a great way to stay in touch with people, but with that comes extra chaos."
Anecdotes of his new-found fame don't end there.
Curry went to his sister's volleyball game last week, and after the game he went on the court to work out for a bit.
"Half the fans stayed to watch me work out,'' Curry said. "It's little stuff like that that has made it a lot more interesting.''
And that's not all. Davidson shirts are the new rage among students and alumni. Junior Stephen Rossiter said he has never seen so many shirts around campus or in the airport when he went home for fall break.
Curry, Rossiter and senior Max Paulhus Gosselin said alumni have used the Elite Eight run as a bond to discuss with each other and as a reason to stick their chests out proudly for the Wildcats.
But Davidson is unique among top-25 programs this season. The student body is so small -- 1,700 -- for a school playing basketball at this level that there is no division among the star athletes and everyone else.
"Life is good for Steph here, that's for sure,'' Paulhus Gosselin said. "But he's very approachable. He's always available to the fans. I don't know how I would do it.''
Paulhus Gosselin said what didn't happen was a separation of student from athlete, notably with Curry, after the Elite Eight.
"We're in the same classes, and everyone hangs out in the same places,'' Paulhus Gosselin said. "Steph has a rock-star status but he handles it and the rest of the student body can stay in touch with him.''[+] EnlargeBob Donnan/US PresswireCurry stayed in school and out of the NBA draft to try to lead the Wildcats beyond their 2008 Elite Eight showing.
Going to class the morning after losing to Kansas (the team flew back from the Sunday game in Detroit) humbled Curry & Co., so much that it was hard not to be immersed immediately back into the student body. Checking the ego at the edge of this stately, southern brick campus north of Charlotte is a must.
"Everybody knows your name at Davidson, from Mike at the Union, to the cafeteria staff, to the professors,'' Paulhus Gosselin said.
Curry could have easily had a hard time getting his head in the door of Belk Arena after appearing on NBC's "Conan O'Brien,'' PBS' "Charlie Rose,'' CBS' "The Early Show,'' the Wooden Award dinner in Los Angeles in April and the ESPYs in L.A. in July -- all post-Elite Eight.
Curry said his initial postgame response after the Kansas loss about whether or not he would return for his junior season was too impulsive a denial. He said he took another week or two after that to sift through the decision. He consulted with his father and quickly realized he had to go back to school.
Curry wants to go to the NBA, but after playing this summer with All-Stars Chris Paul and LeBron James, he quickly realized he's not ready.
"He knows his weaknesses and his strengths,'' McKillop said of Curry staying for his junior season. "It's so easy to be one-and-done and a one-hit wonder. That's the easy thing. The hard thing is to come back year after year. That's tough.''
Curry will have to play more point this season with the departure of Jason Richards. Though Curry is a lead guard, he's hardly going to check his shooting guard skills at the sideline. Brendan McKillop, Bob's son, will share ballhandling responsibilities in Richards' absence. Curry's game won't suddenly change; He'll be the same Curry you saw, but might have the ball in his hands a bit more than last season. Davidson isn't about to lose its best scoring option by designating Curry as solely a playmaker and distributor.
Davidson's run behind Curry last March opened doors in recruiting that McKillop said didn't exist for the school before.
"We don't have to introduce ourselves or say we're Division I or II or III or distinguish ourselves from Dennison or Dickinson," McKillop said. "People recognize Davidson College now and Davidson College and Stephen Curry. All of a sudden he's a poster guy that people aspire to become, someone they can emulate, maybe thinking they could go there, too.''
Go to Davidson, yes, but to be Curry -- that's probably asking too much.
"Stephen deserves all of the attention,'' Paulhus Gosselin said. "But he's humble about it. He handles it great. It could have changed him, but Steph isn't that type of person.''
Not here he isn't, not at a school where everyone knows your name, apparently whether you are a star athlete or not.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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