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June 2, 2009

Davidson bracing for life after Stephen Curry

Davidson coach Bob McKillop never coached someone like Stephen Curry. That means he never has lost a player like Curry, either.

McKillop must look back 30 years for his closest reference point to Curry's departure.

"Larry Bird, maybe," McKillop said.

Curry's career at Davidson was so impressive, even his exit is reason for a lofty comparison.

"How many times have you had a player that's as talented and visible and as charismatic as Steph who hasn't played in a BCS conference?" McKillop said. "There have been players that have been talented, but have they captured the country the way Stephen did?"

Bird did when he led Indiana State to the NCAA final in 1979 against Michigan State and Magic Johnson. Curry did when he guided Davidson to a regional final in 2008. Other teams from non-"Big Six" conferences may have been better during Curry's three seasons, but none had a player more visible than the baby-faced guard.

But McKillop hopes his comparison is wrong in one key way: Indiana State went two decades without going to the NCAA tournament after Bird left.

Curry who took 10th-seeded Davidson to a 2008 NCAA regional final before losing 59-57 to eventual national champion Kansas didn't finalize his decision to skip his senior season until late April. He stayed on campus until the end of the spring semester, working out with his former teammates to prepare for the draft, where he is expected to go in the top 10. And he still talks to McKillop a couple times a week.

"His presence is continually apparent," McKillop said. "He's always going to be attached to this program. His heart will always be in the Davidson program. That's what makes the departure more difficult.

"I'm certain his body won't be with us, but his spirit will be here for my time at Davidson."

Curry left Davidson as the 24th-leading scorer in Division I history with 2,635 points, 1,032 points short of Pete Maravich's career record. Curry scored 974 points as a junior. And even if he didn't break Maravich's record, Curry would have spent his senior season passing names such as David Robinson, Bird, Danny Manning and Oscar Robertson on the career scoring list. It would have been like "Aaron chasing Ruth," McKillop said.

Because of his departure, TV won't be as interested in featuring Davidson games. The trade-off in scheduling is that teams that avoided Davidson in recent seasons will be more interested in facing the Wildcats sans Curry.

"There are a number of programs that are a notch above us in conference affiliation who, for three successive years, they didn't want us [on the schedule]," McKillop said. "Seventy-two hours after Curry decided to go to the NBA, it was a flip of the coin. It's a flip in the scheduling."

Davidson won't miss just Curry; second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Andrew Lovedale is gone, too. Swingman William Archambault is Davidson's leading returning scorer at 8.3 points per game.

"We're going to miss Steph for sure, but we're going to miss Max [Paulhus Gosselin] with his defense. We're going to miss Andrew Lovedale also," Archambault said.

Miss you
Davidson will enter the 2009-10 with an experienced yet anonymous team without star guard Stephen Curry. Here is the projected starting five:
Player Ht./Wt/Cl. 2008-09 key stats
F Ben Allison6-9/220/Soph.4.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg
F Steve Rossiter*6-7/230/Sr.6.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg
G/F Will Archambault6-6/220/Sr.8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg
G Bryant Barr*6-4/190/Sr.7.1 ppg, 34.6 3-pt FG pct.
G Brendan McKillop6-0/185/Jr.4.9 ppg, 1.4 apg, 36.0 3-pt FG pct.
NOTE: * denotes returning starters
Brendan McKillop, the coach's son, is the only experienced point guard on the roster. He'll be the first one to reiterate that the Wildcats' safety net is gone.

"We found ourselves a lot this year sitting back and watching Steph," he said. "We're not going to be able to do that anymore. That was one of our downfalls."

Bob McKillop's offseason message will be to remind his players that Curry wasn't the only contributor over the past three seasons. Davidson can start three seniors and a junior who have been part of a team that went 85-20 overall and 55-3 in the conference in the past three seasons.

Guard Bryant Barr, for example, scored 11 points in the regional final against Kansas two seasons ago and 18 points in a win over Loyola (Md.) this past season when Curry was held scoreless. Brendan McKillop scored 13 points in a win at Appalachian State this past season in a game when Curry played only 18 minutes.

"The teams we had before Steph there was an equal-opportunity offense and team defense," Bob McKillop said. "We had a team defense during Steph's time. Equal opportunity was generally present [on offense], but Steph was first option and deservedly so."

And going back to the pre-Curry mindset won't be all that bad. Though Curry had a Bird-like effect on Davidson, the Wildcats and Indiana State are different programs. Bird took the Sycamores to their first NCAA tournament in 1979. Davidson is a far more accomplished program. McKillop took Davidson to the tournament twice (1998 and 2002) before Curry arrived, and coach Lefty Driesell took the Wildcats to three tournaments in four seasons, including regional finals in 1968 and '69.

Still, the Southern Conference almost certainly will be a one-bid league. The conference teams that beat Davidson this past season, College of Charleston (twice) and The Citadel, return the bulk of their good players.

"What we've seen is doses and glimpses of success, but we need to make that consistent," Bob McKillop said. "That's a challenge for any team that loses a senior class.

"But we're losing more than a senior class; we're losing the player that made a tremendous impact on the program for three years."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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