Detroit Shock

sadwiscfan.jpgDETROIT — The alarm clock went off this morning, like it normally does… but we’re still trying to figure out when, exactly, we fell asleep. Around 6 p.m. yesterday? That timeframe makes more sense than what we were hallucinating about. Davidson? A No. 10 seed? Slaughtering the Big Ten champs in Big Ten country? By 17 points? Sweet dreams are made of this!

There was that sophomore in red who outscored the entire Wisconsin team in the second half (22-20), but he wasn’t the only player out on the court last night. Some of the supporting numbers were really astounding — take, for example, point guard Jason Richards’ perfect 13:0 assist-to-turnover ratio (a figure Bob McKillop made sure to repeat at least six times on postgame interviews). Or the perfect 5-for-5 shooting by Nigerian junior Andrew Lovedale, who’s gone from third on the forward depth chart at the beginning of the season to unsung hero (let’s fix that: Andrew Lovedale is 6-8/His two-point dunk-shots are rea-lly great).

And there were the efforts that didn’t get on the stat sheet, but were important nonetheless. Lovedale, Thomas Sander and Boris Meno sacrificed their bodies for the cause, making the lane a gauntlet for the Wisconsin offense. They were so effective that Bo Ryan spent much of the first half whining on the sideline about all the fouls the officials weren’t calling. Davidson, double-champions of a league the ACC and SEC fans down south call the “So-What” Conference, beating up the big boys down low. Imagine that!

While we get ready for the in-between day interviews, let’s empty out the rest of the notebook from last night.

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As you’ve heard by now, or saw on TV, LeBron James was seated behind the Davidson bench. He was placed in a seating corridor between the press and the general public. Everybody else in that row had the dark blue “AA” all-access tag supplied by the NCAA and distributed by the colleges to their guests… but he didn’t need one of those. He was wearing several gigantic gold chains around his neck, which were just about all the ID LeBron James needs.

He was a guest of the school — as the story goes, he wanted to come see Stephen Curry play, and Davidson was happy to oblige. Several boxes of red t-shirts that echoed Nike’s “Witness” campaign were sent to the Davidson hotel and distributed (Nike furnishes the team’s uniforms, so this wasn’t a 1992 Dream Team brand clash), and LeBron and his posse got their choice seats.

So there was LeBron in Pistons territory (wearing a T-shirt that may or may not have contained a marijuana reference), oohing and aahing when Curry made spectacular plays. The best moment was at 9:07 of the second half, when Davidson head coach Bob McKillop spelled No. 30 after a turnover and foul, putting Bryant Barr backc in the game.

“Put him back in, coach!” LeBron bellowed.

Two minutes later, McKillop relented and let LeBron see some more pure basketball joy. LeBron didn’t stay long, though.

At around the six minute mark, with Davidson up by 19, the NBA star and the LeBrontorauge got up to leave. As he rose, so did the entire endline section, holding their cell phones aloft. There were literally thousands of people standing up, either giving LeBron a standing O or taking his picture. Curry didn’t score another basket, and five minutes later he got his own standing ovation, taking a seat as the Davidson deep-bench got to experience the feeling of being on the floor at the end of a Sweet 16 win.

***
A lot of people have compared (and are going to be comparing for months on end) the 2006 George Mason run with Davidson 2008. A fair enough topic for sports-talk radio, I’d suppose, and “the next George Mason/Davidson” is the shorthand we’ll be dealing in for the next few years, whether we like it or not. And there are plenty of similarities, sure. Both of these schools have fielded teams that have no business being on the court with teams with seven, eight, nine times the financial resources.

Both GMU and Davidson have silver-haired and tongued head coaches that any basketball-loving college kid would love to have as a pair of grandfathers. And there are basketball family trees in common, as Jim Larranaga got his collegiate start as an assistant at DC. The two schools they coach at are tucked away in the suburbs and exurbs of major American NBA cities (Washington and Charlotte, respectively) — close enough to major media markets, but far away enough to conduct day-to-day business in a hype-free bubble.

Personally, I’ve had the honor and privilege to witness both runs up close, and the two experiences have been radically different. George Mason 2006 was adrenaline, motivational tools, excitement, Kryptonite. Davidson 2008 is, well, a bunch of guys who show up to the gym every day and just so happen to play basketball really well. When the players left the floor on Friday night, there was no wild dancing that would show up on a

The only way any school this size can excel in the land of giants is unselfishness, something both the two squads in question had in amazing amounts. The general public never really figured out George Mason, and I’m willing to wager that most casual fans couldn’t name a single player from that team two years later. It was a club with five double-figure scorers who each shot for a solid percentage, and they shared the ball as well as any team in the nation. On any given night, nobody knew who the step-up guy with the big-time performance was going to be.

That, obviously, is not an issue with Davidson 2008. Every single person in the country knows who Steph Curry is now. He’s a clear focal point, and fits perfectly with the way most Americans consume sports. “Which team won?” is often less of a important question than “Who was the star? Which jersey should I buy?” The red one, with the 30 on the back.

But when you talk to Curry after a game and ask him to describe what a stat-stuffing performance felt like in the first person, he’ll generally deflect a lot of the praise to the teammates who got him the ball and got him open. And he’ll respond clinically and technically about the art of shooting a basketball. Sometimes over the past two years, I’ve felt as if I’ve been interviewing an architect or an accountant — “what makes you so good at filing 1065 extensions?” The man is an expert at what he does, and he’d still be an expert if nobody was watching him practice his craft on national television.

It’s been noted in the past few days that on his shoes are written the words, “I can do all things.” But it’s on the bottom of his shoes, a reminder to himself of his abilities. It’s the difference between braggadocio and ultimate confidence. In stark contrast to a Michael Flowers, he won’t tell you what he’s going to do beforehand like a pro wrestling star, he just goes out and does it. Afterwards, he’ll pay proper respect to the fallen opposition, and move on to the next challenge.

We haven’t had a breakout basketball star like Curry in a generation, and he’s helping undo the damage that the past 20 years have done to the idea of basketball stardom. There are kids out there who are now 10, 11 years old, spending this afternoon in driveways copying the fallaway 3-pointer that gave Davidson that early lead at 13 minutes of the first half. Here’s hoping that they’ll keep emulating him, carrying themselves with perfect humility.