It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
I had this as the title of a blog post for weeks now. It seems that my own laziness in writing it turned out to be more serendipity than anything else.
With Davidson’s regular season winding down in February, games became more drawn out, Steph Curry became more fatigued and the impossible looked to be happening: Davidson was not only not finding a groove, they seemed to be getting worse.
All of that bad juju came to a head in Chattanooga on semifinal Sunday, where, four years prior, Davidson’s perfect conference season had been shattered by UNC-Greensboro. This time, after a fire alarm, missed defensive rebounds, poor close-out defense, and a rhythm-less and motion-less motion offense, Davidson went to the mat against College of Charleston for the second time this year and were effectively knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.
Davidson might lose games. In fact, Davidson does lose games. But they never lose seasons, and this season, that of the Top 25s, All-America honors, national TV coverage, standard-bearer for mid-majors, began to feel like a lost one. Sure they had plenty of good numbers to suggest a successful campaign, but they weren’t playing their best basketball in March. They had not seemed to play to win, get any better and they certainly didn’t look they were having any fun.
And then, when all of Davidson’s magic had seemed to fly out the window and fans seemed to watch and imagined how they would lose instead of believing how they could win, the Wildcats pulled an NIT miracle.
With the emerging freshman forward on the bench in street clothes and the All-American as good as out the door to the NBA by every sportswriter’s count, this was just going to be a formality. “Could be Steph’s last game,” says ESPN's Hubert Davis. “Probably will be,” says Doug Gottlieb at halftime.
The game itself was almost exciting. Then the refs got in the way. Four minutes into the second half and South Carolina is in the bonus and Davidson has three players with four fouls and two with three. Three minutes later and South Carolina has taken the lead and Davidson calls timeout.
What looked like fight and desire had turned into pain and frustration yet again. It’s bad enough to lose when everything is on the line. It’s even worse to lose when no one even seems to care.
But then, for 12 minutes, a handful of Davidson basketball players and coaches effectively saved the 2008-2009 season, restored pride in a program quickly sliding out of national view and pulled an NIT miracle.
Coming out of the timeout, Curry hit a three. Then Lovedale got to the line, Ben Allison with a monster defensive board, Barr got to the line for three shots, Steph Curry with a steal and Ben Allison fouled in transition. After a few Curry turnovers lets SC draw back, Curry finds Lovedale in the lane for a jumper, then he hits a three, then Archambault gets an offensive putback: 7-point-game. Five minutes to go and Davidson has responded to every Gamecock attack.
No one knows every single thought that went through the players and coaches minds last week. McKillop described his team as “angry, tense, irrational, disappointed … there were a lot of negative emotions.” And yet while South Carolina made their fifth NIT trip in seven seasons, Davidson had so much to lose last night.
For a program that had so long reflected the philosophy and the character of its head coach, it seemed that the Wildcats were not moving on to the next play, they weren’t acting as one five instead of five ones, they weren’t playing to win nor getting better nor having fun. And that seemed to be the greatest tragedy. Books, blogs, articles, TV segments had been dedicated to why Davidson did things the right way and why Bob McKillop’s program was one you could believe in.
Last year, on the NCAA stage, those players affirmed all of those things. But last night, in Columbia, S.C., they had to find them again for they had been lost.
And so Davidson moves on to St. Mary’s for ESPN match-made-in-heaven between Curry and Patty Mills. Davidson could very well lose out in California or they could survive and advance to the quarterfinals. Either way, the entire team knows that this season cannot and will not be a failure. Because on the road, and in a hostile March do-or-die environment, Davidson’s players fulfilled the expectations of Davidson’s program. They weren’t the expectations of CBS or ESPN or the USAToday or whoever else, but they were ones that long-time fans of the red and black have come to see year in and year out and they are what make every Davidson fan believe that as long as there is time on the clock, there is always hope.
And when all of the dust settles after the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend, there, on Monday, will be Davidson, still playing. Still dreaming. Still inspiring. Still believing.
It is Monday morning at the office. Yes, THAT Monday morning. (OK, maybe more like mid-morning, but that’s beside the point.)
The office is eerily quiet. Like spring-break quiet magnified by 100, and it’s more than possible that I’m the only one downstairs.
But before long, associate head coach Matt Matheny wanders in. Grabs the paper. Sits down. We chat a little. He reads the paper. Glances at the TV.
“How do you feel about the NIT?”
“Honestly, I’ve never been to the NIT. So I don’t know. How do you feel about it?”
About the situation, I feel like everyone else around the program. Sad, disappointed, sad, and angry, but mostly, sad.
After last year’s run, the expectations on this team were great. We know now, and some of us probably always, too great.
I believed until the Selection Show was over. Mourned. Moved On.
If the ‘Cats can do the same, what I feel about them is pretty good.
A few hours later, we get the draw: at South Carolina.
A few days later, we are at South Carolina. In the NIT.
Which is different from the NCAA Tournament in a lot of ways. There are no charter flights. No scheduled practice sessions. There is no pre-game press conference. No need. No one carrying a microphone reporter to reporter, waiting to be acknowledged by a moderator insisting that you identify yourself before asking a question. No one making you pour your can of soda into a cup with the right sponsor on it. (Which, come to think of, is nice actually.)
But there are similarities, too. Fans, buses and ticketing questions. Mascots and cheerleaders. Credentials and name cards.
And it’s still win or go home.
And Tuesday night, it was pretty clear pretty early these Wildcats were going to win. The game was misleadingly close in the first half, and when the Gamecocks attacked, the ‘Cats answered every time.
They surrendered the lead just once, but from around the 10-minute mark in the second half, it felt like a win. And you know what, it felt good.
In the shadow of last season, it’s tough to say if it felt as good. I think we’d all rather be dancing.
And yet, there is MAX doing a little dance after forcing a T.O. late in the game. There is the WL doing a little dance on the bench (to be fair, who doesn’t love Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s Jump On It).
There stands The One the Tournament will Miss, icing another game at the free throw line to the too predictable chants. Standing there, he looks so little like the one who inspired the baby-faced, curfew thoughts of old and much more like the one who routinely drops 30 to the crowd's delight. And when it's over, he still looks like the one who enjoys it.
These Wildcats look like they want to survive and advance.
And afterwards, I can’t help but think about Gonzaga. The energy, the emotion that cannot be matched here. Those magical moments in the locker room. In the post-game. In the hotel.
But there is Matt Matheny, on the phone in the tunnel, with a simple fist pump and head nod.
And yes, coach, I think I could like the NIT.
This was a difficult game. Quick turn. On the road. The NIT and not the NCAA. It was made more difficult by the officials’ apparent decision to call a foul on what seemed like just about every touch in the first part of the second half. Max and Steve with four fouls before the first media timeout? Seriously not ideal.Comments?
Davidson has a reputation for being very very physical. I don’t think I’m revealing any great secret by saying that. They have that reputation because they’ve earned it. There’s a difference between being big and being physical. Duggar Baucom told me that last summer in my reporting for the book. The guys who play for Davidson, he said, almost every one of them, almost every year, are the latter. They play physical because they have to. Refs who for whatever reason decide to call an abnormally tight game typically mean not good things for Davidson.
And yet: 70-63.
A win like tonight’s is the kind of thing that makes a team like Davidson that plays on Davidson’s level a program. It’s not as important as beating Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin on CBS – obviously – but it’s still really important. It is.
To be a program like Davidson wants to be, and is, and to do that from where Davidson sits within the structure of the sport, you win your league in the regular season. You do that more often than not. In Davidson’s case, of course, at least over the better part of the last decade and a half, you do that far more often than not. You don’t beat teams from power conferences every time you play them but you do beat them some of the times you play them. You win, like, 18 games in down years. You don’t go to the NCAAs every year but you are in the running. You have a real chance every year.
And in the years where it doesn’t happen and you don’t get to the NCAAs?
You get invited to the NIT.
And you win there.
Sometimes the most exciting thing about being here is realizing that I’m going to know so many of these people for the rest of my life.
I’m feeling anxious and melancholy right now for a number of reasons. Davidson’s exclusion from the NCAA tournament is not one of them. This season, the Year After, started in earnest with a four-point loss on the home court of one of the best teams in the country, on national TV, in which Stephen had 44 points, after which my phone rang with a call from a friend in the basketball business, who started the conversation by saying: “Whoa.” We saw gyms full and records fall. We saw a win in the program’s old second home in the city of Charlotte. We saw a win in the world’s most famous arena in which the buzz was for one of ours. One man moved from Oregon to Davidson to watch his alma mater’s basketball team. A man and his son from Florida with no connection at all to the school bought season tickets and started flying up from Tampa for Saturday games. Two kids from Michigan drove all the way down, just for a game at Belk Arena in January, and then turned around and drove back. Bob Knight called Stephen Curry the best passer in the history of college basketball. Now comes the NIT. Davidson has been playing basketball for 101 years. Only 15 of those years have ended with national postseason play. More than half of those 15 berths have come under Bob McKillop. This is one of them. This is the fifth in a row. That’s never happened before. It is the continuation of the most consistently fine time to be a fan of Davidson College’s basketball team in at least the last 40 years and maybe ever.
The arcane deconstruction of every possible thing that could happen with every bubble team is a perfect example of a mental exercise that I would never undertake but which I guess doesn’t do any harm. It seems silly to me, but everybody has to have something to do. The business with Stephen is probably mostly that – silly. I guess he has been important enough to the program that it is somewhat understandable, and the fact is that somebody as thoughtful as John Gerdy made intelligent remarks about why Steph might want to stay.Comments?
Steph and his family are smart enough, I’m confident, to figure this out without being influenced by outsiders. As you well know, some grownups do in fact become pretty silly when it comes to their sports heroes.
Let the young man be a young man. Let him decide with his family (both blood and basketball family). It’s not our business. I’ve enjoyed what he’s given me as a fan so far, and I’ll let him do what he needs to do.
I’m proud of him.
An e-mail from Barry Dailey:
I’m a UConn grad and have lived in Davidson for 14 years. It took a lot of Davidson basketball to get me to replace my Huskies Hat for the Wildcat. It was Thomas Sander who finally coaxed me into Wildcat Country. Never saw a player who not only always seemed to be positioned so thoughtfully on the court – but at the right angle. Not only was his body where it was supposed to be, but his feet too. Textbook feet. Great high school coach + Bob I guess.
Anyway we went to Chattanooga. After Sunday’s game we were at the hospitality event at the Sheraton. Understand we are not insiders to the program. We keep our distance but remain captive to how artfully Bob runs things. So he comes up to our table, leans over and introduces himself to our 7-year-old girl who has a Wildcat tattoo on her cheek and a Wildcat basketball in her hands. “Hi Megan, I’m Bob McKillop.” (The guy was less than 2 hrs from a really tough loss.) His emotion was all over his face. He looked exhausted – but his class would not be denied. He stays a while and chats with my wife and I. … Strangers mind you.
When most coaches would be at the bar or hidden away in their hotel room … not this guy.
After Sunday’s game we again talked with our daughter about how there are lessons to be learned when you win and when you lose. How Steph embraced those C of C guys after the game … not with that half hug kids do … but a real, sincere embrace to kids that just beat Davidson – again. No pouting and no excuses. Good luck guys… great game. That’s how you lose. That’s how you live.
Yesterday our daughter was awarded the “school bear” for sportsmanship by her gym teacher… coincidence I suspect but who knows?
Kruse on 16point8.blogspot.com:
There are always reasons.
Antwaine Wiggins made Stephen work hard, and struggle, and that was not a surprise. He’s done it before.
Charleston beat Davidson on the offensive glass, and that wasn’t a surprise, either. Some of those offensive rebounds came late in the game, and made a big, big difference.
All sorts of other things, too, are right there in the box score – Will and Bryant a combined 1-for-14? – but I’m not a big box score man anyway.
If you’ve watched this team, not just on the TV or the web feed, if you’ve been to Belk, if you’ve been around Davidson, if you’ve been around this group, and if you’ve watched and felt how this season has developed, and how these guys have developed – and how they haven’t – you sort of saw this coming. Easy to say now. But you did.
This has been a fun year, at least at times, and even here and there a really fun year, but mostly – mostly it’s been a long year. I don’t mean season. I mean year. Last March to this March.
There was no off-season this year.
What happened with Davidson basketball over these last 12 months, for the coaches and for the kids and for the program and for the institution they represent, was totally unprecedented. There was no blueprint.
It’s going to take some time, maybe, to sort this out, but something interesting was at work ever since Jason took that shot.
I’ve listened to enough fans the last few months say that the wins this year didn’t feel as good as they once did and that the losses felt worse than they ever had.
Fans are tired.
The guys on the team? They’re not robots. They’re not pros. They’re very serious about their basketball, yes, but – they’re college kids, they’re students.
I think they’re exhausted.
And I’m not even talking about physically.
Cremins, in the press conference after the game last night, unprompted, said this:
“Maybe they’re tired from what they did last year. They might be tired. They might be a little tired.”
McKillop, back at the hotel, in the lobby, with people packed in around him in a large, open room, and with people leaning over railings from the balconies above, said this:
“I don’t know if you understand the pressure that’s been on our guys since last April.”
It’s tough to measure pressure. Expectations. Exhaustion. There’s no box score for stuff like that. But those things, and anybody who’s been paying attention knows this – those things, all season long, were thick in the air around this team.
One final thing from last night: When the buzzer sounded, the TV cameras, I’d imagine, did something they haven’t done in a while. They shifted away from Stephen Curry. Charleston was jumping and hollering and TV cameras love winners.
So there was a moment there, perhaps, however small, when Stephen was, for the first time in quite some time, relatively unwatched.
He walked over to the bench. He stood at the rear of the line of his teammates as they started to walk up the sideline to shake the hands of their opponents. He looked down for not long and then looked back up. He seemed to take a deep breath.
And then he did what he’s always done. He tapped his chest, quick, with his right hand, and he pointed up high.
He turns 21 on Saturday.
Maybe, because it’s a sport and all, it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.
I mean it’s kinda stupid, right?
Maybe, because it’s a sport – and a team and a school and a community – that embodies so much more than shoes squeaking down a wooden court, it is
Right now, I think we feel – I feel – like it throws so much out of sync, out of proportion if that makes sense. What does it do to the past? What does it do to the future? What do we do with this? What do they do with this? I feel pulled together by numbness yet shattered apart by uncertainty, frustration, confusion, sadness. Knotted and untied.
The bit of me, the smallest part of me that can see without feeling (or maybe feels the most in a way), thinks that this season needs to be over. I don’t quite know why (and the rest of me screams at that little bit, HOW THE HELL CAN YOU SAY THAT?!); something about past and present and future grinding together (over on top of too much) and pressure (lights/stats/crowdsurfing) and living up and expecting and not really smiling anymore. Worn down, worn out.
Rest and come back.
On most days in the Southern Conference, not all days, but most days, the difference between Davidson and the other 11 teams in the league is Stephen. Today Andrew was huge, huge, huge, especially in the middle and late parts of the first half when Stephen was on the bench with two fouls, but even so… It seems silly even writing this at this point, ever, in particular in March – I mean, we all know this, right? – but today, for whatever reason, it just jumped off the page:
The ball in the hands of No. 30 is a scoring opportunity.
2. What (is in it): The manuscript starts in the fall of 2007 and goes through this season. We’ve included blog posts from both of us, message board posts from DavidsonCats.com and many other things that have been written by many other people along the way, Kevin Cary, Lauren Biggers, Greg Dunn ’75, Stan Brown ’78, Eddie Nicholson ’79, David Sink ’86, Adam Stockstill ’01, Kaylie McKellar ’08, among others on a list that goes on and on. Lots of this stuff you’ve probably already read, but it’s never been brought together in the same place, printed and permanent, in the form of a keepsake.
Also, we have original essays that describe people’s Davidson experiences through the prism of the basketball program, written specifically for the project, by people ranging from William Robertson ’75 to John Gerdy ’79, from Nathan Bradshaw ’08 to Will Bryan ’08, from Beth Van Dyke ’09 to Rachel Hope ’09. The two of us, too, have written original introductions to the collection.
It goes on: We have photos from Tripp Cherry ’99, Evan Downey ’06, Andrew Ruth ’07, Rachel Purcell ’08, John Bryant ’08, Allie Coker ’10, Douglas Agan from Mooresville, David Boraks from DavidsonNews.net, and of course Tim Cowie.
3. Who (is designing): The person who is going to take all of this and make it look awesome is Alan Hyder ’99. This is good news. The former Davidsonian staff cartoonist is a graphic designer. You know him because of the posters he made that have been so well reviewed here and over at DavidsonCats.com.
Speaking of the posters …
4. How (to order): There will be a few options. You can order just the book, you can order the book plus two of the posters, or you can order the book plus all four of the posters. We’re thinking at this point the book will cost somewhere between $20 and $30. We’re thinking the book plus two posters will cost something more than that. We’re thinking the book plus all four posters will be somewhere between $50 and $75. Ultimately the price figures will depend on a couple things: how much it costs to turn Alan’s original art into poster prints, and also how many orders we get. The more orders we get, the lower we can go on the price.
And speaking of ordering … here’s how: E-mail one of us -- firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com -- and tell us what you want. Book? Book plus two of the posters? Book plus all of the posters? We’ll put you on the list. If you say you’re going to buy x, y or z, we’ll consider that a promise. Honor Code and whatnot.
5. We’re the ones taking the pieces and turning them into one whole, but this is your project. If you haven’t written anything, and would like to, or if you’ve got Davidson basketball photos from the last few years in your files -- please, send them along. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with either or both of us. Thank you as always. We think this is going to be a really, really cool thing. The story continues.
-- Michael and Claire
“How fun is it for you to watch him play every game?” comes the question from my newest friend, court side (yes, court side) at the 90-78 win over Elon Monday night.
I think his question is rhetorical, but I answered anyways. It’s a lot of fun.
Later, I got a text message from a high school friend. Lauren, is that you on the end of the table at the Davidson-Elon game? … Yeeees, what are you doing here?
I came with some friends. To watch Curry, came the response.
It’s weird, isn’t it, when worlds collide? Makes me think about how three years ago, I didn’t know Stephen Curry existed.
About how, being from Charlotte, I was familiar enough with Davidson’s basketball tradition to take the job. About how I heard, don’t expect much this year, we lost a ton of seniors and scoring... blah blah blah.
I didn’t really know Coach McKillop, but I heard him talking about this freshman, this Stephen Curry. And I heard about how unusual this was for him.
I remember first noticing Jason Richards, thinking this kid is pretty good. Not knowing that he was only just arriving, too.
And I will always remember when they arrived.
I can’t remember people not knowing about Stephen, but I remember that first season when the media requests started pouring in for “Steven Curry.” Sometimes, Steph-On. But never Steff-in. I can’t remember Stephen Curry, before he became a fixture in the SID office. I remember Stephen, DOBO Jeremy Henney and Will Bryan making a mask of Jason for PTI. Explaining who Charlie Rose is, and why he should make good choices about clothing for national television.
I remember, after Detroit, probably after the summer, discussing this blog. Someone said, you should do it without saying his name all season.
Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t notice, but I took the challenge.
There’s no way you can come up with 30 nicknames, he says, mocking me.
And yet, every week … What are you gonna use this time? He will inevitably ask.
I have no idea. I’m going to need you to do something funny or inspiring before you leave today. And he will try.
They weren’t all great, and The Cheese probably doesn’t care for the one that seems to have stuck, but this is the story as we have written it. His story.
It’s going to take something great, something extraordinary, to get your name mentioned, is his challenge.
I wanted 50 points, but Saturday, 30 needed 30 to become the all-time leading scorer in Davidson history. I think we can all agree that’s extraordinary.
You can’t script this stuff.
And while I made notes on all 30 points, the moment is what we’ll remember. Nearly turned over, Stephen saves it, and with a jumper in the paint, becomes the greatest in Davidson history.
The ensuring ovation leads me to believe you think he’s fun to watch, too.
Monday at Elon?
It was fun to watch the whole lot of Wildcats, wasn’t it? Going into the do-or-die Southern Conference tournament, I very much like looking at the final box score. I very much liked another impressive outing from SteVe Rossiter. The WL. (Yes, I did the claws from my faux seat on press row). WILL. Andrew.
It was fun.