By SCOTT GRAF
The NBA is in jeopardy. This week, the league canceled the first two weeks of its season. Players would normally be in training camp now but a labor dispute has kept them off the court. For Stephen Curry it’s meant the chance to return for some unfinished business at Davidson College.
Curry’s mother drilled him the importance of education. Back in seventh grade at Charlotte Christian, Stephen brought home a 2.8 GPA. His mom, a head master at a Montessori school in Huntersville, wasn’t impressed.
“I missed three days of practice before our season was to start,” Curry says, “going to a tutor and working on getting my grades up above the level where she thought they were supposed to be.”
Sonya Curry had benched her son. The missed practice time led coaches to sit Curry for what was supposed to be his first middle school game. He says it was the first and last time he ever had a problems with grades.
Six years later, Curry landed at Davidson College. The tiny liberal arts school is better known for its academics than its basketball. But as a sophomore, Curry led his team on an improbable run to the NCAA’s Elite Eight. A year later Curry did something else unusual for a Davidson student – he left college without a degree. He was drafted seventh overall in the 2009 draft by the Golden State Warriors. Stephen, like his father Dell did, would make his living in the NBA. Sonya Curry, though, says it was bittersweet.
“For him to be just one season away, or one year away from completing his college experience, I wanted him to complete that college experience,” she says. “And so I was disappointed because again you just don’t know what’s in the future.”
Curry promised his mother he’d spend summers finishing his sociology degree. But when the NBA lockout started in July, Curry decided he’d take classes this fall on campus.
Now, he spends Tuesdays and Thursdays and campus, driving an hour from the home he and his new wife, Ayesha, own in Weddington.
Davidson senior Jessica Hartley says it’s fun having Curry back on campus. The two were friends before Stephen left for the NBA. She still sees him as a peer. But some others don’t.
“I’ve definitely been eating with him and had one of the staff members come up and get an autograph for their nephew and another person on a tour group come up and get a picture with him,” Hartley says. “And it’s just like really awkward cuz it throws you out of the element. You’re having a conversation about normal things and someone comes over and is like ‘Oh can I get your autograph?’ And you’re like oh wait a second, he’s famous, I forgot!”
Curry’s return may be a big deal to some. But Professor Rick Gay, who has Curry in his education history class, says outside of some hubbub the first day or two, everything is pretty normal. In fact, going into the new year, no one even told Gay that Curry would be in one of his classes.
“There’s nothing special about his being in the class at all,” Gay says. “He acts like a regular student. He shows up, does his work, participates in class discussion. He’s just one of the students in the class.”
Well, not exactly. There are some benefits to signing a contract worth about $12.7 million. The Chevy Equinox Curry used to drive has been handed down to a cousin. He now drives a Mercedes SUV. Some weekends, he flies to other cities to work out with fellow NBA players. Gay, the professor, says he’s been impressed by Curry’s initiative.
“I try to put myself into his situation,” Gay says. “And I’m wondering if I had those available resources and the time off whether I wouldn’t be hanging out in South Beach for a few months instead of going back to college.”
Curry admits he’d rather be playing basketball than researching his senior thesis, which by the way is on tattoos and they way they affect athletes’ images. What’s he trying to figure out?
“For those who have extremely visible tattoos and a lot of them, how they manage … across different social spheres when you come into contact with marketers, owners of teams and fans and that kind of the thing,” Curry says.”
A professor has joked with Curry that not many researchers would get access to NBA players for such a project, but that Stephen is just the man for the job.
As for being locked out, Curry is putting his frustrations aside. He considers what he’s doing just making the best of a bad situation. He’s also keeping a record intact for his old coach, Davidson’s Bob McKillop. Every senior player McKillop has coached has graduated. Curry left after three seasons and McKillop wants to add him to the list.
“And I tell him that all the time,” McKillop laughs. “Not that he needs humbling. But he’s making very certain that that record remains intact.”
Curry’s graduation date depends on when he goes back to work. At the earliest, he could get his degree next fall. If there’s no basketball at all this season, Curry says he has every intention of being back on the Davidson campus come January.
Aug. 22, 2011, DavidsonNews.net, “Back to classes at Davidson College; Steph, too”
Oct. 13, 2011, WFAE.org, listen to an audio version of this story, as well as Scott Graf’s full interview with Curry.