The College of Charleston would have another NCAA Tournament banner or two if the start of Bobby Cremins’ stint as head coach didn’t coincide with the unexpectedly fantabulous Stephen Curry Era at Davidson.
But Curry, the 27-year-old Golden State Warriors’ guard named NBA Most Valuable Player on Monday, was no sure thing as a college freshman. His other top scholarship offers came from VCU and Winthrop.
“Is this kid any good?” Cremins said to one of his College of Charleston assistant coaches as the Cougars prepared to take on Davidson.
“He’s alright,” the assistant said.
Ten minutes into a 70-58 Wildcats win, Cremins turned back to the assistant coach.
“He could have started for me at Georgia Tech,” Cremins said.
We got a sneak peek at one of basketball’s great overachievement tales. Curry went on to lead Davidson to Southern Conference Tournament championships at the North Charleston Coliseum in 2007 and 2008. He knocked South Carolina out of the 2009 NIT.
Once better known as the son of former NBA guard Dell Curry, he came within a 59-57 loss to eventual national champion Kansas of taking Davidson to the 2008 Final Four as a sophomore.
That explains the rock star treatment Curry got during his junior year from kids gathered around the Davidson bus when it pulled up to sellouts at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena and The Citadel’s McAlister Field House.
“When he came down the court, you were on the edge of your seat hoping your guys were in position because you knew he could strike so fast,” said former Citadel head coach Ed Conroy, now the head coach at Tulane.
If you think Curry is done surprising people, you better reevaluate.
Curry didn’t play in his first NBA All-Star Game until last season. Now he joins an NBA MVP list that includes LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
Did you hear that Curry made 77 consecutive 3-point shots in practice one day last month?
But if anyone knew the three-time SoCon scoring leader would be this good, he wouldn’t have lasted until the seventh pick in the 2009 NBA draft while other teams gobbled up Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn.
“It’s a little bit like Michael Jordan,” said Cremins, who was the head coach at Georgia Tech when Jordan played at North Carolina. “I didn’t expect either of those guys to all the sudden be the best in the world. I thought Curry would do well in the NBA, but I can’t say I thought he would be the MVP.”
Conroy thought Curry would be able to create shooting space in the NBA because of underappreciated ballhandling skills.
“I was worried a little bit about the body from a defensive end,” Conroy said, “but he’s worked really hard to become a two-way player.”
The Citadel during Conroy’s 20-win season in 2009 got a 64-46 victory at Davidson, but Curry missed the game with a sore ankle.
Cremins found a Curry solution in the long, active arms of 6-7 defensive specialist Antwaine Wiggins. With Dick Vitale on hand as an ESPN2 analyst, Wiggins blocked Curry’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer to preserve a 77-75 College of Charleston victory at Davidson on Feb. 7, 2009.
“Awesome, baby!” Vitale said.
Or something like that.
“We could have gotten 10,000 in that place,” Cremins said. “The lines outside were amazing. We hung on for a great road victory, one of the best of my career.”
Wiggins was at it again in the semifinals of the 2009 SoCon Tournament. He “held” Curry to 20 points — eight below his average — on 5-of-18 shooting and the Cougars won, 59-52, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
College of Charleston fell to host Chattanooga in the SoCon Championship game, the Cougars’ fourth game in four nights. Curry’s next game was a 32-point NIT outing at South Carolina, his final college victory (and the last time the Gamecocks made a postseason appearance).
It’s hard to reflect on Curry’s college success without noticing the overall slippage in the SoCon (Davidson is gone to the Atlantic 10), at College of Charleston (last place in the Colonial in 2015), The Citadel (6-12 in the watered-down SoCon) and South Carolina (17-16 in Frank Martin’s third year as head coach).
But what a run.
“Look at what he did at Davidson, all those games they won with Curry,” Cremins said. “One basket from taking Davidson to the Final Four. They were a nightmare to play against, but it made for great basketball in the Southern Conference.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff