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Davidson took long road to sudden fame

DAVIDSON, N.C. — The only bar in this little village in the Bible Belt was pulling pints late into the night on Easter Sunday.

At the noisy Brickhouse, fans of the most surprising team in the Sweet 16 were happy, hoarse and clearly not ready for this party to end. Sixteen schools still have a shot at the national championship, and private 1,700-student Davidson College is one of them.

Veteran coach Bob McKillop's Wildcats beat Gonzaga in the first round and Georgetown in the second to earn a region semifinal game against Wisconsin on Friday in Detroit.

They did it with fresh-faced super scorer Stephen Curry, unflappable point guard Jason Richards and well-drilled kids who come from places such as Nigeria, Quebec and Cincinnati and major in topics such as history, economics and political science.

The scene just north of Charlotte on the morning after: Easter Break made the campus quiet. At Baker Sports Complex, though, there was a buzz.

The basketball boys were on the front page of USA Today and the back page of the New York Post.

McKillop was in his office trying to get through 171 e-mails.

Curry, in a hooded sweatshirt and his sock feet, woke from a nap on a couch in the team lounge and padded into the sports information office to do a radio interview in Toronto. That was after Mike and Mike in the Morning and before Pardon the Interruption in the afternoon. He said he had 890 new friend requests on Facebook — so many, he said, his computer had crashed.

"The whole thing," he said, "is kind of surreal."

The nation sees a sudden sensation. People who know the program look at the two decades of work it took to get to this moment.

And at a place that is not meant to be a basketball factory.

Davidson is ranked ninth in the academic rankings in the U.S. News & World Report and has an average class size of 15. It has produced pastors, doctors, lawyers and 23 Rhodes Scholars. Newsweek has called it one of the "New Ivies."

In the '60s, when Davidson had 900 students and was all male, Lefty Driesell got his Hall of Fame coaching career started here. He took the Wildcats to top-10 rankings and the region finals in '68 and '69. But that was a long time ago.

McKillop, 57, arrived in '89. In his first season, he went 4-24.

His '98 team went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time and lost big.

His 2002, '06 and '07 teams returned and lost close ones.

Then, last week, the breakthrough win. Then a second.

This year's team is in many ways what has become the norm for this program: an interesting, international mishmash of the mostly unwanted and unknown. There's Richards, the heady point guard from the Chicago suburbs, and Thomas Sander, the tough post player with the floppy hair, and Max Paulhus Gosselin, the tireless defender from Quebec, and Andrew Lovedale, the Nigerian big man who in this season went from sub to starter to stud.

What isn't normal, and hasn't been for two years now, is the kid who is just called Steph.

Curry, a just-turned-20 sophomore, whose first name is pronounced Steff-in, is the son of former NBA player Dell Curry. He came to Davidson after not getting recruited by ACC and SEC schools because of his size.

Listed generously at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, he averaged more than 25 points and was second-team All-America in Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. That helped the Wildcats lose early to North Carolina by only four and to Duke by only six before going 23-0 in conference play and finishing the season ranked 23rd.

Curry's no one-man show. But he is the show's star.

"What he did this weekend?" said Richards, the point guard. "Incredible."

First 40 points against Gonzaga, then 30 against Georgetown, and 55 of those 70 came in the second half.

The drive back from the games in Raleigh ended with a police escort into town past toilet-papered trees. The lights of the team bus swung toward Belk Arena and landed on 500 cheering fans. The first hug Richards got was from his history thesis adviser.

At the Brickhouse, with satellite trucks outside, the crowd hollered and yelled every time the Davidson highlights played on ESPN. Then came the clip of Curry in the postgame news conference. The people looked up at his face and the place went hush.

Michael Kruse can be reached at or (813)

Davidson took long road to sudden fame 03/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 10:04am]
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