Bob McKillop was in the green room with Stephen Curry and his family at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 2009 — the night the NBA was transformed.
Longtime Davidson coach McKillop was convinced of Curry’s brilliance after just two weeks of working with him, later calling him “the face of college basketball” when he declared for the 2009 NBA Draft.
However, McKillop had no idea back then that Curry would also become the face of the NBA — a player whose shooting was so effective he would alter the way the entire game was played.
“I never would have expected him to achieve the incredible iconic stature he has achieved,” McKillop told Omnisport. “No one could ever picture that – not Steph, [his dad] Dell, [his mom] Sonya, nobody.”
One thing the Curry camp did anticipate that night was that it would be the New York Knicks selecting the point guard at with the eighth overall pick.
Dell Curry, a 16-year NBA veteran who was still involved with the Charlotte Hornets, knew the league and had been able to cut through the usual pre-draft bluster.
The belief was that the Knicks — the team New Yorker McKillop “loved” — wanted Madison Square Garden to become Stephen Curry’s home.
“Dell knew who was telling the truth and who was blowing smoke,” McKillop explained. “We felt very confident that he was going to go in the first 10 picks. We thought he was going to go to the Knicks.”
Two other point guards came off the board at five and six as the Minnesota Timberwolves opted for Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn.
“He felt pretty darn good about the fact the Knicks were still his goal and he was going to get that opportunity,” McKillop said of Curry.
But the Golden State Warriors, picking at seven, had other ideas, and the rest is history.
The Warriors have had seven winning seasons, won three titles and made five Finals appearances. Curry has won two MVP awards and been named an All-Star six times.
“It’s amazing how things worked out,” McKillop admitted. “It couldn’t have been a better script written than for him to go to Golden State. It’s given him the opportunity to lead that club and become the trailblazer for their future.”
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It was former Knicks player and coach Dick McGuire, then scouting for the team, who first told McKillop he had an NBA talent on his hands in freshman Curry.
McKillop’s son had played baseball with Curry and, when interest from other major colleges was not forthcoming, the Davidson coach made a successful recruiting pitch.
Sonya Curry told McKillop that they would “fatten him up” amid concerns the teenager was too skinny, small and weak to cut it at the highest level.
“Don’t worry about that,” McKillop told Curry’s mom. “We’ll take him just the way he is.”
Curry credits McKillop for teaching him “everything”, though he endured an inauspicious start at Davidson.
He committed nine turnovers in the first half of his debut against Eastern Michigan and yet McKillop kept him in. The following night he dropped 32 points on Michigan.
“We stuck with him because we recognized that he lived in the moment and he was not going to let a bad play get him down,” McKillop said.
There were plenty more good plays than bad at Davidson. In 2008 he was the driving force behind a 25-game winning streak that ended at the Elite Eight stage as eventual champions Kansas secured a narrow win in front of 57,000 in Detroit.
Curry returned for his junior year and contemplated staying for his senior campaign too but, thankfully for the Warriors, the lure of the NBA was too strong and too logical.
“He had advanced so far in the development of his game,” McKillop admitted. “We all felt if he was drafted as a lottery pick, which would have given him more money, then it would have been foolish for him to pass up that opportunity.
“He had such a loving relationship with his teammates. I think that’s why it was such a difficult decision for him.
“He didn’t make it until the 11th hour. When he went to bed the night before – in the day he came to class – he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. I think he’s a relationship guy and it was tough for him to leave his team.
“It was, without doubt, the best decision for him.”