You could list a half-dozen Curry performances here. My second favorite was far more recent. Curry scored 44 to beat N.C. State on Dec. 6 in Charlotte, with LeBron James as his celebrity fan, watching from the front row.
This book is about why those March moments meant so much to so many. And it is eloquent in the explaining.
There is a history to Davidson basketball and to the institution itself that few know still. Read this book and you will know.
There are the players, the coaches, the fans, the faculty, the alumni and just people who got caught up in the moment.
A Davidson alum and talented writer with just the right amount of passion and perspective, Kruse puts the readers in the gyms, in the huddles and in the minds of everybody, from star Stephen Curry to coach Bob McKillop.
McKillop went to Davidson 20 years ago for the wrong reasons and stayed for the right reasons. Like so many other young coaches, he looked at Davidson as his steppingstone to the big time. Countless losses later, the coach got some perspective that so many in his profession never get. It wasn’t, McKillop found out, about him. It was about them. It wasn’t about the wins. It was about the journey.
When the coach finally understood that, his team started to win. It was not a coincidence.
Getting Curry to come to the small school outside Charlotte certainly helped, but Davidson was already a winning program by then. Curry just took them places they had never been, places you will share while reading this book.
“I don’t even know who we’re playing,” the first cop said.
“Davidson,” the second cop said.
“Oh shit,” the first cop said.
Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos elected to put two men on Curry during all 40 minutes of the Greyhounds' game with the Wildcats on Nov. 25, even when Curry wasn't looking to shoot or pass.
It didn’t take long for Curry to realize what was going on and he did exactly what Patsos wanted -- he didn’t look to shoot or pass. Instead, during Davidson's offensive possessions, Curry wandered over to a corner dragging his two defenders with him while his teammates basically played a game of 4-on-3.
The result was predictable: Davidson earned a lopsided 78-48 victory. Despite the 30-point loss, Patsos appeared to take satisfaction in shutting down Curry, which irked Davidson coach Bob McKillop.
It was another chapter in an already storied basketball career for Curry and a valuable learning experience for himself and his team.
“I meant to say after that game that I wanted to send a ‘thank you’ note to their coach,” McKillop said. “I think what came out of that game was Steph became a better player and we became a better team.”
Not quite the outcome Patsos had in mind.
Marshall Case settled into his seat at Charlotte’s Halton Arena for the Davidson-UNCC game in December of 1997. A stranger approached him.
“You’re Marshall Case, aren’t you?” the man said. “You played for Davidson, right?”
Yes and yes, Case responded.
As a walk-on.
The Annandale, Virginia, native appeared in 19 games that year, primarily as a backup point guard. He scored a total of 33 points on five-for-15 shooting, hit 23 of 24 free throw attempts, passed for nine assists and got six rebounds. And this guy, a generation later, in UNCC’s arena, remembered.
“That’s what it was like,” said Case, who still lives and works in Davidson.
The Case case is perhaps an extreme example, but not the only example of Charlotte’s one-time infatuation with Davidson’s basketball team.
Case isn’t the only one.
Barry Teague gets it. If for no other reason than his steal against Duke’s Art Heyman. “I have people to this day come up and talk to me about that game,” Teague said.
And Wayne Huckel, a rough-and-tumble guard during the team’s two regional final appearances who now works on the 42nd floor of the Nations Bank corporate center in Charlotte, has been confronted by wide-eyed parents of his children’s friends. They want to meet Wayne Huckel. The Wayne Huckel.
Davidson basketball players were the Beatles of Mecklenburg County. Boys wrote asking for autographs or tips on basketball. Area junior high and high school girls, giggly and obsessed, sent doting fan mail and baked cakes, cookies and brownies.
For Ronnie Stone, a Class of 1966 reserve, there was a slew of letter-writing fans. But no one wrote more than Ann Margaret Summers.
“I have just about all the paper clippings of the Davidson ballgames,” the Statesville High junior wrote in a letter dated February 23, 1966. Enclosed was a stick of Juicy Fruit. “Some of my girlfriends went to see you play N.Y.U. I was planning to go but couldn’t. They got autographs from the players there. They brought me a program of the game. I cut out your picture and would like for you to autograph it for me. My friends and I decided to pick a player and write to him. I picked you. (Lucky you.) …
“All my friends call me ‘Kiki,’ so you can call me that, too.”
Stephen: “That’s the plan right now. I don’t want to think too much about a decision I have to make at the end of the year because that will distract me for this season.”
Talk. Lots of talk. Always the talk. The expected talk.
What it is.
The seven keys of Davidson basketball are:
1. Have an act.
4. Flesh to flesh.
Sure you would keep pushing -- until one day the guy gets his uniform wet while walking on water.
Bob Huggins brought it up on The Dan Patrick Show.
John Akers brought it up in his cover story in this month’s Basketball Times.
I brought it up, briefly, last month in Staying Stephen in Charlotte mag.
It’s hard not to start doing the math in your head. All of this is totally cart-before-the-horse, but let’s say Stephen stays four years, and let’s say he keeps scoring the way he’s scoring, and let’s say he plays in all of Davidson’s games. Let’s say that’s 60 more games. Let’s say he scores 30 points per. That’s 1,800 points. Add that to the number of points he has now, which is 1,948 going into Purdue.
That’s more than Maravich.
“Pistol” Pete Maravich was not big, 6-foot-3 and 150 pounds in his senior year of high school at Raleigh Broughton, and he was skinny and even gaunt during his years at LSU. But he scored like no one had ever scored before and like no one has ever scored since. He scored from all over the court. The points just piled up. He drew crowds everywhere LSU went. People just had to see him play.
He scored 40 or more 56 times.
He scored 50 or more 28 times.
He scored 3,667 points in his college career, the all-time college record, thought to be all but unbreakable, and he did it in three years because freshmen were ineligible to play varsity back then, and he did it, too, with no three-point line. He averaged more than 44 points a game. What made Maravich all the more compelling was that he didn’t look like he should have been able to do what he did.
Which gets to Stephen.
If he comes back for his senior season the Pistol talk is going to get loud.
But they’re more different than they are alike.
Read Mark Kriegel’s Pistol. Read Phil Berger’s Forever Showtime. Read the stories from Sports Illustrated in the archives on SI.com.
Maravich played, consciously and purposefully, to put on a show.
“If I have a choice whether to do the show or throw the straight pass, and we’re going to get the basket either way,” he told SI in 1969, “I’m going to do the show.
“Sometimes,” he said, “when we start out and I see the play developing, I just want to shout out, ‘Hey, here we go. Hey, everybody watch this.’”
He never won a game in the NCAA tournament.
He never played a game in the NCAA tournament.
In the NBA, he led the league in scoring, and he was an All-Star, but he seldom played on a team that won more than it lost.
The most points he ever scored in a game, college or pro, came against Alabama. He had 69. LSU lost.
He hurt his knee -- the injury that hastened the end of his career -- while throwing a between-the-legs pass on a three-on-oh break.
And then there’s this: He scored a ton of points, and he made a ton of money, but for most of his life he was very, very unhappy. His father was obsessive and pushed him mercilessly. His mother was mentally ill and committed suicide. He drank too much. He drove too fast. He felt old when he wasn’t. In the last few years of his life, before he died of a heart attack, at 40, he found some personal peace, finally. But during his career in the NBA, he often seemed moody or joyless, and he talked at times about aliens and UFOs and at one point painted a message to them on the roof of his condo in Atlanta.
Pete Maravich played basketball as an escape from who he was.
Stephen Curry plays basketball as an extension of who he is.
I was hoping someone would write this. Now I’m hoping someone will write still more.
Andrew is the eighth of 10 children. He lost his father when he was 13. He didn’t start playing basketball seriously until he moved to England when he was 17. He sings gospel songs, every day, often alone. He says it uplifts his spirit. He says it keeps him in touch with the source. He says his favorite is God Will Make A Way. “A roadway in the wilderness,” that song says. In the locker room after the win over Gonzaga, he told me last spring, he saw peace.
Before he started playing basketball in England, he said, when he was maybe 15 and still living in Benin City, Nigeria, he barely knew the rules of the sport. He was curious enough, though, to go to the playground near his home to watch the “big boys,” he said, bolt barefoot up and down the concrete court with wooden backboards and rims with no nets. They were older, bigger and stronger, but the way they played, he thought, was wild and unstructured.
“I felt,” he told me, “they were running without purpose.”
“This was no fresh-faced kid,” he wrote, on ESPN.com, way back on Dec. 20, 2006. “What we had here was a baby-faced assassin.”
Later, what seems like much later -- last summer, when Kyle and I talked for the book -- he said this: “Folks were heckling him, ‘You look like you’re 12,’ and he did look like he was 12. But he kept hitting shots. And the points were secondary. It was the poise. He was in control of that game. The timing of the shots. The degree of difficulty. He took that game and did what he wanted.”
Kyle is no stranger at all to Davidson basketball, and he travels like an absolute nut, which I respect, and he goes enough places and sees enough games and talks to enough people to earn the right to say what he says.
Also, most of the many things that have been written about Stephen over the last two years have said basically the same stuff -- I’ve read everything -- so any piece of original reporting or new insight tends to stick out.
So here’s what Kyle wrote this morning:
We the media (especially the ones who are just now getting on the bandwagon and need to write glowing copy to justify the trip expense) are in that uncomfortable intersection between starstruck awe, competition for remaining superlatives and the careful soft-shoe around actual criticism of the 20-25 minutes when he’s not clicking. The guy is carrying a backcourt and a team and a school and a conference on his slim shoulders, and the strain is showing. His eyes bulge during timeouts and he clutches his shorts a lot … that wasn’t happening nearly as much last year. Is he ready for the NBA? Who really knows. But if he gets through this season alive, he’s simply superhuman.
Some Davidson-related items:
Russell Robinson: “We were lucky to survive against Davidson. But the way I saw it … I’d been watching UCLA play all year. They’d dodged some bullets and then played well after that. So we dodged ours against Davidson.”
Jeremy Case: “We’d made it to the Final Four, so the pressure was off and we could just go out and play.
“I think the bigger thing for Coach Self -- at least as far as stress -- was beating Davidson the week before and advancing to the Final Four. He got pretty emotional after that win. It was a side of him we weren’t used to seeing. The first round eliminations, the losses in the Elite Eight … all the struggles that we went through to get to the Final Four came down on him at once. His voice was cracking and his eyes were glazed over. It was a special moment.
“We all felt the tension that game. I talked to Russell and he was like, ‘Man, I couldn’t breathe out there.’ We were so nervous and so tight. It was understandable. We were one game away from the Final Four. The media and the hype had worn on us. Plus, Davidson was a really good team.”
Joe Posnanski: “The moment that will always stick with me from this remarkable Kansas team happened in Detroit, just after Kansas edged Davidson to go to the Final Four. The last strands of confetti were still falling, and coach Bill Self was being dragged from interview to interview while fans yelled, ‘Way to go, Coach!’ Self looked absolutely dazed.
“‘We got lucky,’ he told one coach, John Thompson, on his radio show, then he went across to the Kansas radio broadcast and said, ‘We got lucky,’ then he saw some fans from Lawrence that he knew, and he mouthed, ‘We got lucky.’
“They had gotten lucky, of course. The Jayhawks had not looked like themselves all game. They played scared, and anyone could understand. Davidson was this tournament’s charmed team, led by the nation’s charmed player, Stephen Curry. It was like shooting baskets against karma.”
From the book:
In January McKillop’s team came back from six points down with three minutes to go to win against Elon. In February the team came back from 20 down in the first half to win against UNC Greensboro. And then came the tournament comebacks in March that made so many around the nation start watching. One fan said a timeout late in the game against Gonzaga had been what he considered a long-sought-after “moment of equilibrium.” It wasn’t a feeling of imminent victory. What it was, he said, was an overwhelming feeling of opportunity. The chance. We can win this. It was, for some alums, particularly for those who had been boys during the Lefty years of the 1960s, something like a reawakening of the possibility of national success. Two days after that, late in the second half of the comeback against Georgetown, one fan turned to his left and looked down his row in Raleigh and saw a white-haired alum with a single tear running down his cheek and then turned back to his young son and asked him to please watch this game close.
“Who’s better: J.J. Redick or Stephen Curry?”
This comparison came up in one of my conversations last summer with Mike DeCourcy.
Mike’s take on Stephen: “He has qualities of J.J. Redick. He runs through the offense and never stops basically. That’s an unusual thing. But what really separates him is the release. His lack of need for space. The thing that he has now that J.J. didn’t have until his senior year, maybe, is his invention -- his ability to make up a shot in the moment.”
“The play against Georgetown that tied it. The scoop layup. He went basically through three guys, and that was not at a point when Georgetown was not paying attention. A lot of people knew him just as a shooter, but that was the most impressive play I saw anybody make in the NCAA tournament. Because he defeated three high-level defenders, all of them bigger than he was, and at a critical moment.”
In a word: hope.
In two words: a moment.
In three words: earned and experienced.
Allow me to quote Gus Johnson, CBS Sports, March 30, 2008, Ford Field, Detroit:
“Five to shoot!
“Three to shoot!
“Off the front rim …
“And with 16.8 to go!
I know why.
Because Jason took the shot.
Because Stephen trusted him to do that.
Because it’s about the pursuit and not the result.
Because it’s about the journey and not the destination.
Because William wrote what he wrote.
Because Davidson basketball under Bob McKillop has always been about the chase of the chance and there it was.
Because that moment -- watched by so many -- was created by so many people for so many years doing so many things watched by so few.
Because in my reporting for the book Eileen Keeley told me this: “Wait. Stop. Focus on the moment.”
And because Reed Jackson told me this: “I felt like it wasn’t about wins and losses anymore. The fact that the moment existed made it worth experiencing.”
And because Stephen Cefalu told me this: “Something I want to do better in life is live out those moments. Embrace them fully. … Live life. Life should be amount those moments, and they’re so quick.”
And because Greg Dunn told me this: “I cared about this, deeply, but … it was an oddly calm experience. I’m usually an anxious sports watcher. I get up and pace. I drink my beer too fast. But there was a euphoria about being there.”
And because Beaux Jones told me this: “That feeling exists.
“It was possible.
“It was real.
“That moment happened.”
Some quick thoughts on last night:
*** Something I’ve heard enough to be a pattern: “Stephen had an off night, and he still had … ”
I heard it after the Oklahoma game in which he had 44 points. Could’ve been 60, I heard people say. Shoot, I heard MYSELF say that.
I heard it after State. Also 44 points.
I heard it at Madison Square Garden, where, granted, he wasn’t his sharp self for most of the game but still managed by the end to be THE SHOW in MIDTOWN MANHATTAN.
And I heard it last night.
The kid had 41 points in 36 minutes. He made half of the shots he attempted from the floor. He made five of the 11 threes he shot. He missed four free throws, yes, which is uncharacteristic, almost shocking, but he also made 14 of them. He had six assists and four rebounds and a steal.
I’m not sure what people are wanting from No. 30, or expecting, and I know his shots look so pretty, whether they’re misses or makes, but …
*** Nobody else in the Southern Conference has a Stephen Curry. Games like last night make me think the same might be able to be said about Will Archambault.
*** Andrew: 14 rebounds at half, 18 in all, nine offensive, 38 minutes -- what he is going to be on many, many nights in league play the rest of the way.
*** Chattanooga is good. Players. Athletes. Size. Depth. Shot-makers. Last night could’ve been a preview of a certain Monday night in March in Chattanooga. Wouldn’t surprise me one iota.
*** John Shulman after 41 from Stephen: “I thought we did a pretty good job on him.”
*** My favorite moment from the game:
Chattanooga guy had the ball, was sort of trapped near the sideline, looked like smack between Brendan McKillop on the court facing the bench and Bob McKillop in front of the bench facing the court.
Bob McKillop was standing still, and had his arms crossed, and stayed that way, practically calm-looking, even though he was -- what? -- two, three feet from this play, with Brendan McKillop tense and ready and in defensive position.
Father to son:
“Right here, Brendan!
*** My favorite moment from the postgame press conference:
Somebody asked Stephen about that drive late in the game down the left side of the lane and the maybe-I-should-dunk-but-no wildly missed layup.
“I’ve done that two games in a row,” he said. He looked embarrassed.
“Gotta work on that,” he said.
Will was sitting next to him. Under the table he used his right knee to nudge Stephen’s left thigh. Sly smile on his face.
“I’ll give you some pointers,” he said.
“Thank you,” Stephen told Will.
To mark her return to campus, and also just because they’re really kind of awesome, here are some more entries from her basketball journal from last year:
March 11, 2008: AND THEY SANG WITH US. THEY POINTED AT US (“TOUCHING ME, TOUCHING YOU!”). WE POINTED AT THEM. THEY RAISED THEIR FISTS (“1, 2, 3, 4!”). THEY PUMPED THEIR FISTS AND CHANTED “SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!” RIGHT ALONG WITH US! It was absolutely indescribable for me to see them doing that, overjoyed, a true reflection of what we as their supporters mean to them, and I had never seen it done so explicitly that if I hadn’t been so caught up in it I would've started crying.
March 22, 2008: And it’s hard to describe what it’s like when months and years are somehow slammed together to mean nothing but NOW, THIS MOMENT, the cheers, the screaming, the possibility of impossibility … it’s all still kind of a juxtaposition in my mind. It’s fuzzy, it’s red and black, it’s loud, it’s Sweet Caroline coming back for round two, it’s their wide grins and joyful fists, it’s my sweaty hands punching in Dad’s number and letting loose a shriek that I’d been dying to do for months as he answered the phone in kind.
Mach 24, 2008: But we all had dreams.
They’re not dreams anymore.
March 29, 2008: And I was there.
And it was incredible.
From the text:
On his own team, Curry’s new fame is a source of amusement. Teammate Steve Rossiter recently noticed a crowd at a spot on campus where it wouldn’t normally congregate and found Curry there, signing napkins for a group of prospective students. Rossiter alerted security to the potential fire hazard.
And Curry remains the Wildcat who can barely dunk or beat his old man in H-O-R-S-E.
The son has never beaten the father on their driveway. There, Steph said, Dell Curry can step out of his car after a long drive, after months without playing, and still shoot as if he was participating in the NBA’s 3-point contest. But on the Davidson court last spring, in front of coaches and teammates, Steph Curry finally got the better of Dell Curry.
Lil Wayne (seriously): I do watch a lot of college basketball, and I really need to address something in the blog before I move on. Steph Curry, you are amazing. Did you see how he gets those text messages from his mom before the games with an inspirational quote and then he goes and writes it on his tennis shoes? I love that so much.He wasn’t looked at heavy coming out of high school ’cause of his little body. The ACC schools thought he would get pushed around, so they passed him over. Now he is the ultimate underdog running circles around everybody ...
Curry isn’t just the most exciting college player this season. He is the most exciting since, at least, Allen Iverson left Georgetown in 1996.
Brandon’s a Davidson alum, Class of ’96, and a Davidson basketball alum, obviously, but he’s also the NBA’s director of basketball operations, so (1) he knows the sport, (2) he knows the business of the sport, and (3) he’s not some crazy, irrational fan.
More from Brandon:
“Stephen doesn’t come along often for college basketball -- much less for Davidson.”
“NOBODY has had this guy in a long time.”
“What I saw and recognized about Steph -- the day we beat Wisconsin, we were back at the hotel, in the lounge, and on those plasma TVs was, ‘Steph Curry, Steph Curry.’ And he was being a college kid at midnight. He was eating pizza with his roommate and his roommate’s dad. He stopped and watched and listened, but he was shooting pool, laughing and being silly.”
“He wasn’t Steph the superstar, with shades on, basking in NBA glory, is my point.”
"He’s enjoying college. It’s about hanging out with the White Lobster. And how much fun is that?"
“The last time you sit around and eat pizza and drink hot Gatorade is in college. Because everything will MATTER after that. Pro basketball? It’s a different world.”
“I saw a kid shrugging it all off. He’s not naive. It’s not like somebody’s programming what he’s supposed to be saying. It’s not like he doesn’t get that being on Conan is a big deal. But I don’t get that it alters who he is.”
“Davidson will protect him. Davidson doesn’t have enough experience to exploit him. I don’t know if we know HOW to exploit him the way other people would.”
“Curry as a pro? Curry coming out? That’s not even the story.”
“Stephen Curry is loved by his teammates. Loved.”
He never stops shooting.
Back before LAST season, back when I had seen Stephen play in person all of once, back before the second straight 29-win season, back before Gonzaga, Georgetown, Wisconsin and a shot in the air -- back before all that -- I went to Davidson to report a story for Charlotte magazine and this is what the coaches told me: The kid can miss a shot. He can miss two shots, three shots, four shots, five shots, 10 shots. It doesn’t matter.
He never stops shooting.
Lives in the moment. Never about the last one. Always about THIS one.
And so this is what I found myself writing, over and over, in my notebook tonight at the Garden.
He never stops shooting.
He never stops shooting.
He never stops shooting.
In and out.
He never stops shooting.
So there’s more to say about tonight, much more, and I’ll get to it, but right now I kind of want to go meet Meg and Chip and Eddie for drinks at the Playwright on 35th between 5th and 6th.
Just quickly, though, just so we’re clear about what happened here: These guys played at Madison Square Garden tonight and they did so without their best defender. They got out-rebounded 58-32, which is hard to do, and gave up 29 offensive rebounds, which is hard to do, too. They missed seven free throws. A freshman walk-on played nine minutes. Most of the team was in foul trouble most of the night. And Stephen missed more shots than he has in goodness knows how long.
And they won.
In The World’s Most Famous Arena.
And when Stephen hit that first late three deep from the left wing, and then that second late three deep from the right wing, ESPECIALLY that second late three, this place was nothing but noise for No. 30 and the rest of the kids from the village.
“He is,” McKillop told all the people at the press conference after the game, “a very, VERY rare young man.”
Up in the cafe on the second floor of the Borders at 33rd and 7th, looking down at the cabs and the crush of the people and the hustle bustle of midtown Manhattan, and to my right, in white-light block letters in the early-evening dark, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.
Like Gary Parrish.
It’s possible he’s not getting enough acclaim for what he has accomplished so far this season. Curry is averaging 31.3 points in spite of the scoreless night he endured against Loyola’s constant double-team. In both games this year against major-conference opponents, he scored 44.
Oh, and by the way, he also is averaging 6.4 assists and shooting better than 50 percent from the field. He deserves this stage.
Yes, Davidson is not “the best.” But they didn’t get good just when Stephen Curry showed up, and they’re not going to disappear when he leaves, either. We’ve been big fans for a while now, and the reason they are good, and the reason why they were perceptive enough to go after Curry when some others didn’t, is simple: Bob McKillop is an unbelievable coach.
We noticed it not long after he arrived and Davidson went from being a joke to a team that would hang around. Instead of losing by 30, the games were maybe 10 points. After last year’s game, when Duke barely won, Davidson wasn’t a secret anymore, but really, it was nothing new. They’d given lots of teams fits -- UNC, Kansas, UCLA, Stanford.
Curry is a freak, and they’ll miss him, but the program is really well constructed and should continue to succeed after he leaves. It’s not a one-man deal. Or if it is, rather, the man is McKillop.
Of course, Stephen Curry is theoretically just another college basketball player. The Eiffel Tower is theoretically just another building.
“In all of your reporting on the team for the book, which player impressed you, and how? I have a feeling it’s one of the guys that hasn’t made headlines.”
One of the very few shames of having Stephen in these last eight or so months go from star to superstar to phenomenon is that some of the other guys on the roster who have great, great stories aren’t really having those stories told.
Andrew Lovedale is a kid from Nigeria who sings gospel songs and brings old sneakers and basketballs back to his country when he goes home in the summers for goodness sake.
Bryant Barr is a double major in math and economics who speaks to church youth groups and to celebrate his math major last year got together with his fellow math majors and made pies with Pi logos on them. Just a nerd with a jumpshot, Bryant is, and proudly, and admittedly, and unabashedly.
Steve Rossiter? The kid was offered a scholarship in part because of the way he cheered for his backup at the ends of games in high school in Staten Island.
Certainly, though, at or near the top of this list, at least for me, is Max.
Today, given yesterday, it seems maybe particularly apropos to say as much.
It was a bad foul.
It looked even worse.
And I haven’t talked to Max since, haven’t even seen him, not down in Charlotte after the game, not up here in Davidson, but I can say that he absolutely didn’t go toward that kid with intent to harm. It’s just not Max.
The first time McKillop ever saw Max was at an all-star camp in Atchison, Kansas, and Max was running and jumping and diving in a game being played in a gym that was so stuffy and so hot that other players started calling it “the oven.”
McKillop went to visit Max in the suburbs of Montreal and told his parents their son was the rare sort who could have, he thought, an enormous influence on the outcome of a game without scoring a point.
Fine Davidson fan Meg Clark told me last spring that Max was working the fall of his freshman year at the carnival at Belk Arena to kick off the season and that he came over to a game where young kids were trying to throw rubber rings onto bottle necks. He got down on his knees and talked to the kids and helped them with their throws and called them all “buddy.”
Max, Meg thought then, and thinks still now, has a gift that is hard to explain but plain to see:
He makes the people around him feel good.
He spoke no English three years before he got to Davidson.
He didn’t understand why some of the coaches from some of the schools that were recruiting him were telling him about how hot the girls were or how good the weather was on their campuses.
He picked Davidson, he told me in April, because he is so close to his own family.
“Human relationships,” he said.
“I didn’t want to just be a teammate.”
He has a habit of touching guys on their shoulders in huddles.
“I think physical contact conveys a lot of meaning,” he said in that meeting in April. “I think of the team as family. Are you going to tell your mother every five minutes that you love her? No. But you can touch her shoulder, lean against her, and feel close.”
He doesn’t watch TV.
He doesn’t watch sports on TV.
The only basketball games he watches are the ones he plays in.
He majors in sociology because he is fascinated by how people who are different try to get along.
He is one of the best students on the team.
I have found Max, always, to be bright and open, and interesting and interested, and the best kind of curious.
“In life,” he has written on his Facebook page, “everything is a first time.”
In June, in Chambly, Quebec, I met on a sunny Saturday morning for a long breakfast with Max and his parents.
Max’s father’s father was a pig farmer and a beet farmer and did that from early in the morning to 2 in the afternoon and then went to work his shift treading tires at a local factory. He did that for 27 years.
Max’s father is one of Canada’s most successful importers of cheese. It’s a family business.
“We work not in the spirit of we have to,” Jean-Philippe Gosselin said. “We work because we like what we do and the feeling of accomplishment.”
The motivation in his work, he explained, sometimes in English to me, sometimes in French to Max, who then translated, is not motivated by fear or money, but by the belief that the pursuit and the competition are intrinsically worthwhile.
At this point in the notebook I had with me that morning, written in scribbles, is a note to myself -- I’m looking at it right now -- and it says:
The goal was never to make it to the Elite Eight or the Final Four. The goal was to play so hard, and so well, and so together, that such a thing became a possibility.
*** Ben Allison had seven points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal in 17 very, VERY impressive minutes. Four of those rebounds were on the offensive end. Some of them were of the I-don’t-care-that’s-MY-ball variety. No way to know for sure what happens from here, of course, and it was somewhat lost in all the Curry-for-44 fervor, but my initial impulse is to call those 17 minutes THE most important development out of yesterday’s game.
*** Seemed, watching the game, like Andrew wasn’t having anywhere close to his best outing, and he didn’t. But the stat sheet was sort of surprising: 12 points on 6-for-13 shooting, nine rebounds, including SEVEN offensive rebounds, and two blocks in 38 minutes. I’ll take that.
*** Rossiter? Ten rebounds, one of them, of course, near the end of the game, off that airball, being hugely important.
It led to what is seriously one of Davidson’s bread-and-butter plays at this point.
*** Scott Fowler asked in the presser how deep that last three from Stephen might have been.
“Thirty-seven?” he said.
“I didn’t see,” he said almost apologetically. “I just saw the rim.”
*** I asked Stephen in the hallway outside the locker room how LeBron was entered in his phone. In other words, when a text message arrives on his phone from, you know, the best basketball player on Planet Earth, what’s it look like on his screen?
Everybody’s in his phone with a full name, he explained, so …
From: LeBron James.
*** Add this to the always fun, always growing list labeled How Things Have Changed: There was Sidney Lowe, coach of the N.C. State Wolfpack of the Atlantic Coast Conference, after a loss to Davidson College, 1,700-student Davidson College, Davidson College of the Southern Conference, telling the assembled press, and with a quite straight face, that this LOSS was “something we can hang our hats on.”
*** Also, this: There are tickets for sale for Davidson’s game against Duke next month in Durham -- right now, as I write this -- selling on StubHub.com for $1,200.
*** Bottom line: That was a game, against an ACC team, that Davidson could have lost, and certainly did enough things to lose -- but won.
20 minutes to tip.
Attack the attacker.
We will not back down from anybody.
We see ourselves sometimes in the middle of the boxing ring,
and we always want to fight stepping forward,
and we always want to be in the middle.
We understand we’re going to get knocked to the mat.
We understand we may get knocked to the ropes.
But we also understand
that we may have to fight it outside the ring,
and get into the street,
and maybe even go house to house,
and we’re gonna do that.
I met Claire early on reporting for the book and she sent me her journal entries about Davidson basketball. She writes beautifully, and with such energy, and there clearly and palpably is not a whole lot of space between what’s inside her and the words on her page, and I love that.
Here, with her permission, is some of what she wrote on Jan. 20, 2008, after the game on last season’s 100th anniversary weekend:
We could have told you that long ago, but we’ll jump up and down and let you soak it in for yourselves as you finally figure it out, and as we enjoy the ride that they have every right to take. And yeah, there are ups and downs and profanities and jubilations -- but they’re always there, and we’re always there.
That’s what it is.
At halftime today, the court was lined with 70 years’ worth of men who have left our collective home away from home and made their way out of the bubble to create wonderfully full lives. They came back and stood before us so that we, no longer teenagers but barely adults, could see the significance that this place holds for them, and that there is much more history behind today’s dunks and threes and blocks and steals and rap music intervals than we realize. And that our boys, holed away in the locker room planning, have a place in this history -- and therefore, so do we.
It’s a humbling feeling. And honestly, it’s not humbling because it’s basketball and we’re oh-so-good at it and we can get national recognition for such a small school; it’s because I will always be able to say that I am a part of this COMMUNITY that comes together to support each other, that becomes joyously one in so many ways -- because this is only one.
It feels kind of silly to be so emotional about a basketball team, trying to write about it in such a life-altering sense, and I know that my male family members deserve some of the credit for passing on their intense sports-angst to one of their few daughters. But it’s that word up there in caps – the word that inspires so much of what I write, the very real concept that brings a grin to my face at some point every single day -- that leads me to this point. Standing there in that arena that only holds about 5500 people, I can scream, jump around, sing, laugh, shriek -- I can be completely myself (sometimes with a little extra profanity thrown in) and it’s fine with everyone else, it’s welcomed by them. I can start cheers if my sports-angsty heart moves me, and people will join in. There I stand in the sold out student section behind the basket, with a very deep knowledge that this is exactly where I am supposed to be -- not only in this hour, but in my life. At this place, in the state of North Carolina, in this dorm room writing at 2 in the morning, not knowing so many things. But it’s okay, because this place -- most importantly, these people -- bring me such joy.
And so it semi-started with a basketball game …
I used to do this stuff for full-time work, believe it or not, so it wasn’t a totally unfamiliar feeling walking into the small, crowded Providence School gym and finding a spot to sit with my legs dangling off a stage behind one of the baskets.
Felt like going to watch, say, Raymond Felton in little Latta, S.C., or Gerry McNamara in Scranton, Pa., or Kevin Bookout in wherever that was in Oklahoma … or one Brendan Winters at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.
Now, before I say anything about the Davidson-bound guard from North Florida, I have to say this: Back when I did this for a living, I always, or at least with very few exceptions, considered a first watch just that and only that.
I mean, LeBron James was an NBA All-Star waiting to happen when he was 16 years old, and one watch was more than enough to know that, but LeBron was, and is, as everybody knows by now, a freak.
But most of the time?
I want to see a kid once just to see how he moves.
Then can I start to get a feel for what he can and can’t do, what makes him go, etc., on a second watch, or a third, or a fourth, and so on. That’s when context and perspective starts to happen.
All that said, then, some quick thoughts after my first watch of the future Wildcat:
Tough to gauge. Kind of impossible to make any sort of meaningful evaluation. He played about half of the game because the final was 87-35 and could’ve been a lot worse.
He made a couple threes early and missed a few later. Airballed one of them. His face didn’t change.
Missed a few runners in the lane and an elbow stop-and-pop off the dribble.
Probably finished with 12 or 14 or something like that.
He threw consistently crisp, smart passes.
He looked like a responsible rebounder on the defensive end.
No headband, no wristbands, white mid-calf tube socks. Just playing the game.
He was on the bench near the end of the second quarter when the score was 55-22 and he stood and he clapped and he gave his teammates high fives when they came out of the game.
Again, though, the competition was truly atrocious. For a while in the first quarter, I thought University Christian might not score -- like, not at all. The team’s coach was a young balding man wearing sweatpants.
Anyway, the game ended, I said hello to JP and wished him luck and merged back onto 95 North.