By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published November 23, 2015
Years ago, before marriage, kids, and juggling 2-3 jobs, I would make time – each night – to watch a few college basketball games to fill my appetite. Like a scout, each night, my writing pad or meal involved the emerging stars of college basketball who would one day become the Jordans, All-Stars or Hall-A-Famers of tomorrow’s NBA. When you are single and free of responsibility, any, and everything can fill your time, worse when you are a sports junkie.
NCAA College Basketball was one of the few entrées that captivated my taste buds with their exhilarating season of ups and downs, wins and losses which culminated into a knockout tournament often described as “March Madness.”
Looking back through my college basketball writing pads from the late 2000s, names such as Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Blake Griffin, and a toddler by the name of Stephen Curry appear, and have all gone on to be bona fide All-Stars in the NBA.
Durant was a lanky beast from Texas University who seemed able to shot over everyone from anywhere on the court and was able to handle the ball like a point guard 12 inches shorter. Unsurprisingly, Durant has won four scoring titles and an MVP title in the NBA since his Longhorn days.
Noah, the Tim Tebow of College Basketball in 2006 and 2007, won back-to-back NCAA titles with the Florida Gators and was then coached by Durant’s current coach, Oklahoma City Thunders’, Billy Donovan. The gritty Noah, who plays 5 inches taller than his height, won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2014.
Durant’s current teammate, Westbrook, and Love were the big bad duo from the 2008 Final Four UCLA team that many tipped to be NCAA Champions. However, Love and Westbrook ran into the speedy point guard, Derrick Rose and Calipari’s Memphis All-Star team in the Final Four, and that’s where their dreams ended. Westbrook and Love are ridiculous stat sheet fillers every night in the NBA, with Westbrook the scoring champion from last year, and Love, the rebound king, especially when he dominated in 2011.
Though losing the 2008 NCAA championship game against Kansas, Derrick Rose has won the NBA MVP title, just not the NBA Championship. Many tip his team, the Chicago Bulls, with being the standard-bearer out of the East, if Love’s Cleveland Cavaliers falter along the way, and if Derrick’s knees hold up. His athleticism is his strength and the Chicago Bulls will go as far as Rose’s injuries and knees take them.
James Harden, former teammates of Durant and Westbrook, has emerged as a perennial MVP candidate since his exodus from the OKC Thunder. An Arizona State alum like Lakers coach Byron Scott, Harden was runner-up to Curry in the 2015 NBA MVP selection process. However, Harden’s coach last season, Kevin McHale was fired last week after Houston Rockets’ slow start to the season, compared to Curry’s Golden State Warriors.
In the 2009 NBA Draft, Blake Griffin was the number one pick while Curry was the 7th pick even though Curry led the NCAA in scoring. In addition, Griffin brought his Oklahoma Sooners college team no further than Curry did with Davidson the year before. Griffin, the highlight reel of High Griffinition dunks early in his NBA career, won the Slam Dunk and Rookie of the Year honours in 2011. Who can forget his Mozgoved, Perkinsed or KIA dunks? I promise you’ll get goosebumps every time you watch those breathtaking athletic feats.
The toddler Stephen Curry played his three seasons of college basketball with the likes of Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, James Harden, and Blake Griffin featuring in those seasons. Even though the diminutive figure was the NCAA scoring champion in 2009, while hurling shots seemingly from the stands or court seats, many scouts thought Curry wouldn’t make it in the NBA. Even though he was the son of a former NBA sharpshooter, the evaluators remarked he wouldn’t be a superstar. He was a superstar every night I watched him playing for Davidson, and today, he is the ‘guy-next-door’ superstar in the NBA.
His success tells kids all over America and the world that you don’t have to be 6’8″ and taller, or become 250-300 lbs. of muscle to succeed in the NBA. As long as you can shoot, dribble, and play the fundamentals exceptionally well you can achieve great things.
Curry, the reigning MVP, has achieved the one thing Durant, Noah, Love, Westbrook, Rose, Harden, and Griffin are all chasing: an NBA championship. He did this against the Anointed King to Michael Jordan’s throne, Lebron James. Curry is currently averaging 33.7 points per game this season and the fans are ready to coronate him MVP for another season. If he continues on this pace, he would add another layer to his growing basketball stature: NBA scoring champ.
His Warriors team seemingly is on another mission as they chase down Jordan’s immortal 1996 Chicago Bulls team record of 72-10 with a 15-0 start to this NBA season. We’ll see if they can match or overhaul it.
On the other hand, if Curry wins the NBA scoring title after this red-hot start, he would achieve something that Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson never did in their storied college and NBA careers combined: win the season scoring titles at the College and NBA level. Only a selective few have achieved this feat: Rick Barry and Pete Maravich come to mind. Unsurprisingly, Maravich still holds the single season scoring record at the college level with an average of 44 points per game. That’s how much it seems Steph Curry can score each night at will in the NBA – 44 points – without breaking a sweat.
Defenses are continuously stretched thin; no point on the court is too far away for you to hear swish; and even when you play exceptional defense, his dribbling and handling of the ball create enough space for him to bury shot after shot. Before you know it, he’s hot, his team is spicy and you have been Steph Curried.
My friends… Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published November 23, 2015)