December 22, 2008

Younger Curry making name for himself

Somewhere around the time that the AAU circuit was just heating up last year, Seth Curry the younger brother of Davidson star Stephen Curry pulled a hamstring that would take nearly four months to fully heal.

Coaches at Liberty were happy Curry was hurt.

"We were all rooting for the hamstring to get worse," Liberty assistant Jason Eaker said with only a hint of a laugh.

Curry, who eventually signed with Liberty, was able to play in just a few tournaments. When he did manage to play, he was far from his normal self, lacking quickness and the ability to change speeds.

"I was only about 75 percent," Curry said. "I was playing just to play. I don't think a lot of schools even knew I was hurt. It definitely hurt my recruitment."

That was just fine with the coaches at Liberty, a Big South Conference school located in Lynchburg, Va. They were among the few who knew what Curry, who leads all freshmen in the nation in scoring, was capable of and desperately were hoping it would remain that way.

One of the first moves Ritchie McKay made after taking the Liberty coaching job in March 2007 was to drive to Charlotte to see Curry work out against a number of other future Division I players. It took all of three shots for McKay to realize he wanted Curry badly.

"I'll never forget it," McKay recalled. "He drained a 35-footer on his first shot. I'm not exaggerating. Then he got to the rim and stretched out with a finger roll that was smooth as silk. The third time he got the ball it looked like he was going to do the same, but he pulled up for a mid-range jumper and nailed it. That's when I turned to his coach and said, 'We are offering [a scholarship].' "

McKay, who had been coach at Portland State, Colorado State, Oregon State and New Mexico, took over the recruitment of Curry and immediately showed a belief in Curry, a skinny, baby-faced, 6-foot-3 guard.

"It's easy to say now that you thought he'd be really good," McKay said. "He doesn't pass the eye test, but he's got something unique. He's so smooth and he doesn't look like he's playing hard, yet he has a gear that I've never seen before."

McKay also had religion on his side. The Currys are devout Christians, and Seth and Stephen attended Charlotte Christian School. Liberty, which was founded by the late evangelist Jerry Falwell, has hopes of being the nation's foremost Christian-based college.

McKay spent the 1989-90 season as an assistant at Charlotte's Queens College. He had longtime friends from the Charlotte area call Curry's father, Dell - who played 15 seasons in the NBA - to vouch for his character.

"When a head coach recruits a player, that tells you something," said the elder Curry, who is the director of player development for the Charlotte Bobcats. "He told his assistants, 'Don't worry about Seth, I'm going to recruit him,' and then he went out and recruited him like an assistant. At one point, it seemed like everyone I knew in Charlotte was talking to me about Coach McKay and what type of person he was."

No other school showed Seth that kind of attention, and it paid off. Seth committed to Liberty over Davidson in September 2007.

Virginia Tech, Dell's alma mater, later offered a scholarship. Hokies coach Seth Greenberg was one of several ACC coaches who had seen the damaged version of Curry play in the AAU games.

But Curry never wavered in his commitment to the Flames. Seeing his brother the two are close, talking about three times a week and sending text messages to one another before games go to a small school influenced him to do the same.

"I had a lot of confidence in the coaches and had a great relationship with the players," Curry said. "I have a similar situation to what Stephen had when he first got to Davidson in that he was able to come in and make an impact right away.

"I thought I would get recruited a little bit more, but I couldn't control it. All I can do is go out there and prove people wrong."

A number of ACC coaches already regret passing on another undersized guard named Curry.

In Curry's third college game, he scored 26 points to spark Liberty to an 86-82 upset at Virginia. Curry nearly led Liberty to an upset at Clemson as well. The Flames were leading the unbeaten Tigers by four points with 4:23 left but eventually fell 80-75. Curry hit six 3-pointers and finished with 24 points in that matchup.

Curry has shown a penchant for late-game heroics. He scored 13 points in two overtime periods as the Flames beat William & Mary 80-74. Two days later, Curry hit a jumper and two clutch free throws in the final minute of overtime in the Flames' 69-66 win over George Mason.

Curry has helped Liberty, which hasn't had a winning record since 2003-04, to a surprising 7-4 start. VMI (9-2) is the only other team in the Big South with a winning record. Curry has received help from senior forward Anthony Smith (18.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and freshman point guard Jesse Sanders (3.9 apg).

"This isn't real surprising to me," Curry said of his and his team's good start. "I've put in a lot of work and I've come in with a great recruiting class. The coaches have put the ball in my hands in big times, and I'm just glad I've been able to come through."

Through 11 games, Curry is averaging 19.7 points and is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. Those are eerily similar numbers to Stephen's first 10 college games, which produced an average of 19.2 points and 39.7 percent 3-point accuracy (but from the shorter line).

"He's very similar to his dad and his brother," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. "He's a great shooter. He's very poised. He really understands offensive basketball. He doesn't hold onto the ball too long, and he's a good team guy. I think he'll be an All-American someday."

McKay compares Curry's potential to that of Indiana Pacers standout Danny Granger, whom he coached at New Mexico. Granger, a 6-9 forward, currently is tied for fifth in the NBA in scoring at 24.4 points per game.

"I've told many friends that Seth will eventually work his way into the NBA," McKay said. "I said that about Danny Granger, and I think I'll be right about Seth. Scoring is obviously a great strength of his, but he can also create shots for others and is a very underrated defender.

"His greatest quality may be knowledge of the game. You can draw anything up and he executes it without any questions asked. He's a special talent."

Special enough to be better than Stephen? Seth isn't ready to go that far, but he also isn't willing to take a backseat to his sibling.

"I don't think anybody can guard Stephen one-on-one," he said. "That includes me.

"But I don't think he can guard me either."

It's likely that more and more of Liberty's opponents soon will be sharing the same sentiment. And they have an injury to blame.

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