Stephen Curry: Underrated, the celebrated documentary detailing Stephen Curry’s improbable rise to NBA greatness, played in only a handful of theaters nationwide, and the Independent Picture House was one of them. On Wednesday, Aug. 2, a packed house got to relive that incredible ’07-’08 season, when Steph Curry led the Davidson College Wildcats to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. That experience helped shape the superstar he would become with the Golden State Warriors, where he has won four NBA championships.
Following the screening, key players in his journey shared their insights in a discussion moderated by ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. The panel consisted of Malcolm Sanders, Curry’s first youth-league basketball coach; Gayle Kaufman, Davidson sociology professor and Curry’s thesis advisor; and Bob McKillop, Davidson’s legendary head basketball coach.
Below are excerpts from the discussion, edited for clarity and length:
JAY BILAS: Well, Coach Sanders was his first coach. What was he like as a youngster when you coached him?
MALCOLM SANDERS: Not the same, but in a sense, when he was young, he had it in him. I remember the first couple of games, it was age 6 and under. He hit one, he hit two, and then he’d go back down [the court] and shake. Just that little motor was in him early, it really was. …
JAY BILAS: Bob, I remember [Steph’s father] Dell Curry, I think he told me, but I know he said it publicly at times, that when you recruited Steph, you told his family that he was going to play in the NBA. And Dell said that he thought, well, maybe in Europe, but he wasn’t convinced. What made you think at that stage that you were looking at an NBA player when he was coming out of high school?
BOB MCKILLOP: … He has an extraordinary capacity to be balanced in his life. He’s an outstanding father, an outstanding spouse, an outstanding teammate, sibling, son, and he never has ever had freedom without letting discipline come first. He has tremendous confidence, but humility comes first. He has a capacity to be a powerful voice, but it’s always partnered with truth.
So this balance that he has is really extraordinary, and I think it really was crystallized in the film. He has great toughness, but he has equal tenderness. And when you have all those balances in your life, you set yourself apart. And that’s why he is the iconic figure he is.
JAY BILAS: Do you agree with Reggie Miller that he’s changed the game?
BOB MCKILLOP: I get upset when people say he’s a three-point shooter. He shoots 90% from the foul line. He shoots 70% layups. He shoots every imaginable type of layup. So he’s done it at all three levels. What he is, is just a great reader of situations. And in a sense, Reggie is absolutely correct. Too many people focus on the three. And yes, Steph has to be watched at the three, but it has opened up a whole roadway to him to get to the foul line and get to the basket.
JAY BILAS: … What did [Steph] represent to Davidson and for Davidson as a student and a member of the Davidson community?
GAYLE KAUFMAN: When he was on campus, before the NBA, he was [just] another student. I mean, everyone knew he was an outstanding basketball player, but he went to class like everyone else. He made jokes with his friends. He made videos, he did all the assignments. And so I like to think that he represents the best of Davidson. That while he is clearly unique in a lot of ways, in some ways he’s really doing Davidson I think the way we think students will.
JAY BILAS: And you mentioned when he decided to finish his degree, which is not easy given the schedule that an NBA player has and being a father, husband, all the responsibilities, how much of his finishing his degree was Steph pursuing it? How much of it was you and Davidson helping him pursue it?
GAYLE KAUFMAN: It was initiated by Steph. So I actually had him in class the last spring before he went into the NBA. And I remember him telling me after class one day he had talked to his coach and his parents and decided to go into the NBA draft. And he was pretty clear. He was like, I’m going to finish. He mentioned that his mom really wanted him to finish. But yeah, I think that at that time I expected that he would, but I didn’t foresee all that came in-between. …
JAY BILAS: Well, I was trying to read some of his senior thesis on his computer while his son was jumping on the bubble wrap, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about his senior thesis since you helped him with it and had to grade it. First of all, what did he get?
GAYLE KAUFMAN: I can’t tell you! I can’t even tell parents grades. But it was focused on gender equality in sports, and we talked about some ideas and thinking more broadly about the issue of gender equality and then clearly within the sports realm. And thinking about trying to connect his interests and things that he wanted to do to make it not simply an academic paper, but something where he could be thinking about how this could inform all of the activities that he has been a part of and wants to continue going forward. …
JAY BILAS: Bob, the team you had in ’08 was obviously a team that caught the national imagination, but you’ve had so many great teams over the years. What does a team like that and having a player like Steph do for not only the program but for the university?
BOB MCKILLOP: His fingerprints are all over Davidson College because he has never taken his heart off campus. His heart remains there. And when you leave a part of yourself there, you always want to go back to touch that piece again. So he’s constantly in touch. In fact, one of the top guys on his team of his corporation is Jason Richards. Prior to Jason Richards being in that spot, it was Bryant Barr. Tomorrow I leave for San Francisco to do Stephen Curry’s camp with Jason Richards, and Jim Fox, one of the assistant coaches, will be there as well.
So he has done so much for Davidson, because when he takes the court, if you go to the Oracle, the old arena, or you go to the [Golden State Warriors’] current arena, which is the Chase Center, it says Stephen Curry from Davidson on the bunting around the arena when he’s announced. And he’s very clear about that. He wants Davidson front and center. …
JAY BILAS: I have a question for [Davidson’s] president, Doug [Hicks, sitting in the audience]. Are you really as good a ping-pong player as I hear? I have heard you’re the Stephen Curry of ping-pong at Davidson.
DOUG HICKS: Well, if you say it, it’s true.
JAY BILAS: That doesn’t work in my house. But thank you. Well, we want to thank everybody for coming, and thank you, Malcolm, Bob, Gayle, for spending your time up here, and thank all of you for coming. And this is my first time here. My wife and I used to go to the Manor Theatre all the time in Charlotte. And we are now coming to the Independent. This place is fantastic. Thank you. Really nice place.