Bob McKillop has been close to Charlotte product Stephen Curry for more than a decade and coached him for three years at Davidson College from 2006-09.
Curry, whose Golden State Warriors open a second-round playoff series Sunday against Memphis, is the favorite to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. McKillop answered five questions for me about Curry.
Q. How often do you have contact with Curry these days?
A. I check the box score every morning after he plays. If it’s on television, I will try to catch glimpses of the game. We have contact via text, phone or email once a month. I’ve been to two Golden State games this year – one in Charlotte and one in California.
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In San Francisco, I spent maybe two hours with Steph after the game. That was the night in April he broke his own record for most 3-pointers in a season and he had 45 points.
I got there early for that game. I wanted to see the way the crowd came in. So for 15-20 minutes I just sat there and watched people come in with a Steph Curry jerseys, Golden State jerseys, all these signs – it was just an extraordinary, college-type atmosphere. It was what you would see at maybe a Kansas or a Duke, a school at that level.
I ran into probably 20 Davidson graduates, all with Davidson gear on.
And when the starting lineup is introduced he comes out last. They say, “From Davidson College, Stephen Curry!” The crowd just erupts. There’s something pretty special about that.
Q. What has Curry specifically improved on the most since leaving Davidson?
A. Without a doubt, the ability to dribble. He’s become a maestro with the ball in his hands – a magician. And that doesn’t happen unless you’ve invested so much time in it.
I don’t think he’s as great as he’s going to be. He will get even greater because of his work ethic.
After the game I saw him play against Portland, he told me there was something like 18 games when he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter because Golden State was winning by such a significant margin. He said, “I need to work on my cardio and my core because I’m going to play more minutes when the playoffs start.”
Here’s a guy who is knocking on the door of the MVP, has played an exhausting season, and he’s already working on cardio and core to prepare for the next step. That’s a capsule summary of the type of character he has.
Q. Did you ever think you were coaching a future possible NBA MVP?
A. Well, I thought he’d be a terrific player for us. I still remember before the season had begun his freshman year, I publicly told a group of Davidson alumni in Charlotte that he would be one of the great players in Davidson history. This was before he had even played for us. He showed that much in a three-week period of individual workouts.
In his first game in a Davidson uniform, against Eastern Michigan, we were 16 points down at halftime. He had eight or nine turnovers in the first half. (Curry would finish with 13 turnovers in the game – as a shooting guard.) We wondered about sitting him down as a coaching staff. But we kept him in there. He lives in the present, he’s great at being in the moment.
We ended up winning that game. The next night he had 32 points against Michigan, and it was full speed ahead from then on.
Q. What other highlights in Curry’s college career stick out to you?
A. In a 2008 NCAA tournament game, against Gonzaga, he hit a 3-pointer very similar to the incredible one he hit against New Orleans in the playoffs the other day to tie the game over Anthony Davis. A teammate missed with a minute left and the score tied. Andrew Lovedale fought through three guys to get the rebound, and Steph set up on the perimeter and fired.
A lot of people would have held the ball in that situation or called a play. Not Steph (who had 40 points in that win, with 30 in the second half). He sees what’s right in front of him all the time, in basketball and in life.
Q. What professional athlete does Curry remind you of the most?
A. Derek Jeter. I say that because Jeter is an icon not only because of his durability and performance and success, but he also didn’t stand up on a pedestal and pound his chest. That’s Steph.
Jeter was in a time where social media exposed everything, and Steph is in that era also. And for Steph to have that mixture of extraordinary humility and that confidence? The guy is driving down a highway of superstardom.