Before Curry Was An NBA Star, Here’s What Coaches Saw
Posted by Dean Holden at July 24th, 2015
by George Anders, 15 February 2015
Stephen Curry in 2008 (Photo credit: David Hogg via Flickr/Creative Commons)
This is Stephen Curry‘s moment of triumph. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard isn’t just the No. 1 vote-getter for tonight’s NBA All-Star game; he won the league’s three-point shooting contest with a burst of 13 accurate shots in a row. Turn back the clock a decade, though, and Curry was just another high schooler with a dream. What did basketball coaches see in him, long before he became a star?
A few years ago, when I was researching a book about the art of spotting talent (“The Rare Find“) I spent some time with Curry’s college basketball coach, Davidson’s Bob McKillop. We combed through old e-mails and scouting reports in McKillop’s office, curious to see whether the first signs of stardom are obvious or subtle.
As McKillop reminded me, the teenage version of Steph Curry wasn’t on every college coach’s radar. In his freshman year of high school, Curry was a mere 5-foot-4. While Curry grew a bit in the next few years, his wiry frame made some coaches think that he might be too puny to succeed at the top levels of college basketball. Only three schools — Davidson, Winthrop and Virginia Commonwealth — offered Curry a full scholarship right away.
Among the waverers was Virginia Tech, where Stephen Curry’s father, Dell Curry, had set the school’s basketball scoring record a generation earlier. Nice legacy, but according to multiple accounts, Virginia Tech was uncertain about whether it could offer Steph Curry either a roster spot or a scholarship freshman year. Full-fledged status as a scholarship athlete might have to wait until sophomore year.
Davidson’s McKillop, by contrast, had glimpsed all the potential he needed. I still remember McKillop’s pride, during one of our chats, when he fished out a Jan. 31, 2006 email that he sent to Steph Curry as a high school senior. “I was so encouraged by your toughness and the physical nature of your effort when I watched you practice earlier this month,” McKillop wrote. “It’s not very common to see a high school player bring such physical toughness to the practice floor.
Curry’s now-famous outside shooting touch was already part of his game in high school. As a senior at Charlotte Christian High, Curry made a mighty 48% of his three-point shots. But McKillop never mentioned that to me in our conversations. Instead, the Davidson coach kept coming back to what he liked about Curry’s character.
During summer-league AAU games, McKillop recalled, Curry hustled on defense. He listened to his coaches. He raced into the huddle during timeouts, instead of dawdling. Overall, Curry carried himself like someone who wanted to master the complete game of basketball, instead of merely seeing how many points he could score.
During recruiting season, McKillop visited the Curry family home. He liked the family minded values that Curry’s parents projected. McKillop even snuck a peek into Steph Curry’s own room and was impressed by how tidy it was. Plenty of people with messy rooms have played great basketball. But for McKillop — a coach who places an unusual emphasis on players’ character — it meant a lot to identify prospects who handled life’s routine chores with care and pride. As McKillop told me, a lot of recruiting comes down to making an educated guess about how much a young prospect might improve during his college years. Players with rich reserves of tenacity and discipline tended to do the best.
Could Steph Curry thrive at Davidson? By January 2006, McKillop was ready to make his case with a preacher’s intensity. “We run and attack on every possession and the flow into a 4-out, 1-in offense,” McKillop explained in his email to Curry. “I’m convinced that you will be an absolutely perfect fit for this style. With your toughness and versatility, this system should accentuate your strengths.”
Artfully, McKillop began wooing Curry as the sort of big-game player who could help underdog Davidson knock off higher-ranked rivals. His email made two references to future games against basketball powerhouse Duke, which would be televised on ESPN, as well as a tough game that Curry’s high school team was facing. “I know you thrive in that kind of environment and atmosphere,” McKillop wrote. “Best wishes for continued success. Very anxious to be your coach for the next four years.”
Curry actually ended up playing only three seasons at Davidson. But he delivered everything that McKillop had hoped for — and then some. In Curry’s sophomore year, Davidson made it to the final eight of the NCAA basketball tournament, before losing a surprisingly close game to eventual champion Kansas. A little more than a year later, Curry turned pro and was picked in the first round of the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors.
<Firstly, I find this account fascinating as it details a retrospective look into the identification of an elite player later in life. Curry’s college coach certainly saw special qualities in him as a High School player. Have you as a coach ever had this feeling about a prospect? What are the similarities? Secondly, I would be remiss if I didn’t heartily recommend George Ander’s book, “The Rare Find.” Get it, read it, look for common themes that might help you with your talent recruiting process! – DH>
Category: athleticism, communication, competition, deportment, evaluation, focus, growth & development, interview, late bloomers, motivation, passion, perseverance, practices, recruiting, responsibility, routine / ritual, scouting, self-improvement, Skills, sport psychology, statistics, talent, talent ID, talent selection, work ethic