- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Davidson coach Bob McKillop received a text message from Stephen Curry at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night, went to bed and still thought Curry was 50-50 about returning for his senior season.
The text message said Curry appreciated McKillop's advice and the conversations the two had shared during the past two days about what had become a wrenching decision.
After Curry told McKillop on Thursday morning he was leaving to enter the NBA, the coach opened his office door and saw Curry's parents, Dell and Sonya, standing in the outer office. He said Stephen made eye contact with his parents and embraced them, but didn't say a word. They walked into the office, and McKillop told them what their son had decided.
Curry's decision was not easy. He said as much during Thursday's news conference. He discussed how much he loved being a college student, how much he enjoyed sharing the college experience with his peers the past three years. But ultimately, in the hours leading up to the the news conference, Curry decided he was physically and mentally ready for the NBA. He said he was at peace with his decision.
He should be. Curry gave as much to Davidson and college basketball as he received.
Deciding to come back would have been akin to Tyler Hansbrough's decision last year to return to North Carolina. When Hansbrough decided to return, teammates Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green had declared and were intent on leaving college. Hansbrough had no idea he was returning to a favorite to win the title. He just wanted to stay in college because he loved the sport and the experience.
Curry, who will be a lottery selection (Hansbrough would not have been), shares similar thoughts on the college experience. But there is a difference in their legacies left behind. Although Hansbrough won a national title and will be remembered as one of the greatest North Carolina players, the Tar Heels always have expected to compete for titles and recruit the best players in the country.
Curry changed Davidson in a way few players have changed a college basketball program.
"Guys make imprints on programs, but they don't leave their spirit on a program," McKillop said. "It's rare. There's a spirit about him that will hover over this program for years to come."
McKillop was emotional and nearly teared up at the news conference. He said he continued to be worked up in the hours after the news conference as well.
Curry wasn't a fast-track, NBA-hyped talent out of high school, even though he has NBA genes because his father played in the league. Curry blossomed into a star at Davidson, leading the Wildcats on a magical Elite Eight run in 2008 that will ensure Davidson's program won't lose its name recognition any time soon.
McKillop has coached Davidson since 1989. His teams won 20-plus games six times before Curry's arrival, making NCAA appearances three times before Curry matriculated.
But the program has built a national name under Curry.
"Look at the excitement around the program, the crowds, the identity and the sense of intimacy he represented with the alumni, the students and the professors," McKillop said. "That won't disappear. Now it's up to us to continue that. It won't be easy with his departure, but the spirit he leaves won't ever disappear. His legacy will be here long beyond his eligibility expiring."
McKillop said he continues to pinch himself that 2008 really occurred, saying how slight the margin of error was for the Wildcats. He said the team enjoyed so many singular moments, like when Andrew Lovedale picked up a loose ball, then passed it out to Curry for a key 3-pointer to beat Gonzaga in Raleigh in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament.
"Magical things occurred during that run, and now the challenge will be to see how we can do it without Stephen Curry," McKillop said. "The expectations will drop. That's human nature. The thinking will be that Davidson will never be the same.
"But the energy around the program will continue. Stephen Curry opened up doors for us in recruiting that may never have been open. Our picture is bright for our future, and that's something we didn't see before our magical run."
Curry would have been the favorite to win the national player of the year awards had he returned. The Wildcats would have had a returning 28.6-points-per-game scorer. How will the Wildcats replace that?
"I'm going to the court here soon for individual instruction to figure that out," McKillop said of the likely by-committee scoring approach for next season.
The Wildcats can finish setting their nonconference schedule. Davidson was penciled in to play at Kansas had Curry returned. McKillop said the Wildcats were slated to go to the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden in December, too. But both were contingent on Curry's return. Now they're gone.
"I thought we had seven games locked in if Stephen had decided to come back," McKillop said. "Now I would say we need six or seven games for next season."
Davidson still will be one of the favorites to earn the Southern Conference's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The conference tournament moved to Charlotte from Chattanooga. The buzz over the program will dissipate on a national level but should remain amped on campus.
Nevertheless, this is arguably McKillop's most challenging coaching situation in his career.
"He was the face of college basketball to a degree, wearing a Davidson uniform and putting us on the same stage he was on," McKillop said. "It was an extraordinary opportunity as a coach. I cherished it the whole time and will even more as I reflect back on it."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
8dESPN The Magazine