Sometimes you get lucky in this life – and by “this life” I mean the life of the sportswriter. Sometimes you are told a secret before someone else finds out. Sometimes you get a glimpse of what’s to come.
The Providence Journal and Hartford Courant scribes surely got a glimpse of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as minor leaguers. Someone from the Oshawa News must have watched 14-year-old Bobby Orr play for the Junior League Generals. Maybe it’s not so obvious at the moment. But looking back: it was good to be there.
It was good to be in Buffalo early in the afternoon of Thursday March 15, 2007. The very first game of the 2007 NCAA Tournament paired the Maryland Terrapins and the Davidson Wildcats, a 4-13 game that ended very much be a one-sided affair. Sometimes you can afford to skip this game. But there was an additional interest attached.
A son of a famous athlete played for each team.
Most notable was DJ Strawberry of Maryland, son of Darryl, who in four years had become a very good ACC player, averaging 14.9 points his senior year. A day earlier he had been beleaguered during a press conference at what was then known as HSBC Arena.
“I never saw it as a burden to be called Strawberry,” he said then. “I’ve always seen it as an honor.
The other? He was Dell Curry’s eldest son. Dell Curry never achieved the level of fame – or infamy – in the NBA that Darryl Strawberry achieved in MLB, but hoop aficionados even then recognized that Dell may have possessed the shot. the sweetest of all time, the one that allowed him to make 40.2% of his 3-point shots in 16 seasons with the Jazz, Cavaliers, Hornets, Bucks and Raptors, a career that ended five years later early.
“Do you want to hear a secret?”
Bob McKillop asked me for these words. I had known McKillop for years, ever since he attended his summer camp at Long Island Lutheran. It was already one of Long Island basketball’s signature careers, and that Davidson team, at the time, was his masterpiece: 29-5, 17-1 in the Southern Conference.
“I like secrets, Coach.”
(And yes, until the end McKillop was one of the few coaches I still called “Coach”, since I always felt 14 years old in his company.)
“The kid shoots better than his old man.”
It was nonsense, of course, but I nodded politely. The next day, during warm-ups, I kept an eye out for the kid from Dell. His name was Stephen. He was maybe 160 pounds, soaking wet, and when he turned on his side he almost disappeared, he was so skinny. Despite the strong bloodlines, he had been under-recruited, which is how he ended up at Davidson.
Curry took a shot beyond the corner 3-point line, out of bounds. Rustling. He took a few steps to his left. Rustling. He moved around the 3-point circle, keeping himself 10 feet behind the line. He made everyone his first round, from one corner to another. He made each his second round, in the other direction. When he finally missed one, he reacted as if he had forgotten his mother’s birthday.
It was, in a word, extraordinary.
The game? Well, as you can imagine, the Terrapins didn’t treat Davidson’s Wildcats the way they might have treated, say, Kentucky or Villanova. Davidson was within 43-42 at halftime. The Wildcats stayed in the game for much of the second half, but Maryland had too much of it and won 82-70. Strawberry had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Curry scored 30, and while he wasn’t as perfect in the game as he had been before – 5 for 14 from 3 – every time it looked like Davidson was about to step out of the gym , he made a shot, made a play.
“I feel like I belong here,” Curry said. “I know I have to prove it every day, but that’s okay. I’m not afraid of hard work.
This was probably the last game that Curry was somewhat of a dark horse. A year later, the Wildcats came within a shot of the Final FourReminiscing. As a junior, Curry was so unstoppable that one coach opted to play triangle defense and two – both defenders on him. And, well, you know what he’s done in the NBA, crowned with his first Finals MVP award and his fourth championship this week.
Turns out McKillop underestimated him. The kid not only shot better than his old man, but better than anyone who has ever played basketball. And it’s been like that for a while.
Bob McKillop was a terrific player at Chaminade and Hofstra, an outstanding coach at Holy Trinity (where he coached Matt Doherty) and Lutheran (where he coached Bill Wennington) and for the past 33 years he has led a masterclass at Davidson , winning 634 games and doing so with a grace and dignity that honored his profession (and should have won him the job at St. John’s on at least four occasions). Here is a prosperous retirement.
Readers were quick to pounce on a glaring omission from my list the other day of New York’s all-time offensive seasons: Don Mattingly, 1985: 35 home runs, 145 RBI, 48 doubles, 370 goals in total, 0.324/0.371/. 567. Error on the scribe.
I mentioned this when it first aired, but “The Offer,” on Paramount+, was pretty much the best limited series I’ve seen in years. Everyone there is great, but special mention to Giovanni Ribisi as Joe Colombo.
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Spencer Ross: Steph Curry was rightfully awarded Finals MVP. But without Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors do not win this title.
VAC: Spencer on hoops is like the old EF Hutton commercials: when he talks, people listen. Or at least they should.
Tim Doyle: Isn’t it illegal or unconstitutional or just plain un-American that there is no baseball played in New York on the 4th of July?
VAC: It’s all of those things. How the Yankees – the Yankees! – having a day off that day is just beyond explaining.
@gorevidal: As the Yankees take on tougher rivals, the gravy train will be over. Again, who did they play?
@MikeVacc: Soon, the Yankees are going to have to schedule a friendly against the 27-man Yankees to find opponents who don’t qualify as “easy.”
Alan Hirschberg: Lee Trevino said, “You don’t know what the pressure is until you’re playing for five bucks with only two bucks in your pocket.” The guys who took the LIV money ahead of time will never feel the pressure to win any of these fake tournaments. So if it doesn’t matter to them who wins, why would any single fan care?
VAC: That’s a very good question.