DETROIT – There’s no doubt what most college basketball fans will be talking about leading up to the Final Four this weekend. All four No. 1 seeds have made it through their regional brackets, an unprecedented feat.
And maybe I should be talking about it too, considering I called out ESPN’s Digger Phelps a few weeks ago for picking this exact scenario.
But I’m stuck on how the entire country can embrace and drool over a 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore from Davidson.
There’s no need to beat around the bush. I’m talking about Stephen Curry and his team’s remarkable run to the Elite Eight. The 19-year-old averaged 32 points against four quality opponents.
In the process, the kid sent the national media into a frenzy with his lightning-quick trigger, silky smooth stroke and knack for showing up in crunch time.
It’s a well-known fact that LeBron James showed up at Ford Field Friday to watch Curry decimate No. 3 seed Wisconsin with 33 points in the Sweet 16. Pistons guard Richard Hamilton and Heat GM/coach Pat Riley were in the house Sunday to see if Curry could once again pull the seemingly impossible and beat Kansas in the Elite Eight.
By the time the weekend was over, Curry had even inspired his own Lebronesque “Witness” shirt, except his was bright red for Davidson’s colors.
Alas, the magical run of this year’s Cinderella had to come to an end. But it wasn’t without fanfare. Guard Jason Richard’s last-ditch effort to win clanked wide left off the backboard, giving Kansas a 59-57 win and its rightful place in San Antonio.
The miss gave the Jayhawks and coach Bill Self a monumental win.
Like any true star should, Curry tried to deflect the attention away from himself and back to Davidson in his postgame press conference.
“Looking back, I’m definitely proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we’re about and what we’ve just proven all year,” Curry said. “This game’s gonna hurt a lot for the next however long. But I’m just happy to be a part of this team and be a part of what we accomplished.”
But sitting courtside at Ford Field, there was an overwhelming sense of which team – and more than likely which player – everyone wanted to win. The busloads upon busloads of students brought in by Davidson’s board of trustees (take note, Mary Sue Coleman, because at some point Michigan is actually going to play in an NCAA Tournament game) stayed rabid the entire game. Almost every neutral fan in attendance jumped on the Wildcat bandwagon, too.
From the beginning of the contest, the crowd was “oooohhhing” and “aaahhhing” as Curry let fly each of his majestic 3-pointers. I can feel myself now, days after the game ended, getting excited just thinking about it. And so did the rest of press row, where members of the media were heard groaning after each miss.
It was an experience I’ll never forget because I’ve never seen so many people’s eyes transfixed to one player on the court. Even the Kansas fans in attendance couldn’t help but watch Curry effortlessly move around screens in anticipation of another impossible shot swishing through the net.
The media couldn’t give Davidson the win, but they did name him the Midwest Regional MVP. Curry became the first player since Juwan Howard in 1994 to be awarded a regional MVP without his team making the Final Four.
For all his greatness, few Michigan fans realize they had the chance to see the phenomenon of Stephen Curry up close and personal at Crisler Arena. In just his second career game, Curry put up 32 points, including five 3-pointers, in a 78-68 loss to the Wolverines last season.
I sat on press row for that game and didn’t think much of it then. I kind of shrugged it off as poor defense by a Tommy Amaker-coached squad. I guess I was wrong – just like when I didn’t have the foresight to pick all four No. 1 seeds.
Looking ahead to Saturday, it’s hard to not get excited about the tantalizing matchups: UCLA-Memphis and Kansas-North Carolina. Both games should be exciting and full of future NBA stars trying to put their stamp on the NCAA Tournament.
But to me, the lasting image of this year’s March Madness will always belong to Stephen Curry. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I wanted Stephen – err, I mean Davidson – to keep the dream alive for at least one more game.