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How Warriors’ Steph Curry juggled earning his Davidson degree and NBA stardom

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Stephen Curry was getting anxious. Practice with the Golden State Warriors in Minneapolis had run late, and he was about to miss a very important meeting.

After hoisting his final jumper on that late-February night, Curry took the primary team bus to Golden State’s hotel, raced to his room, opened his laptop and clicked on a Zoom link. On the screen was Dr. Clark Ross, an economics professor at Davidson College overseeing Curry’s independent-study course — one among the last requirements for his bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Never mind that his net price of roughly $160 million, status as a worldwide celebrity, three Larry O’Brien trophies and two NBA MVP awards suggested that he didn’t need the validation of a chunk of paper. Thirteen years faraway from his final college game, Curry was intent on making good on a promise to his mother, Sonya, and earning his diploma.

“Greater than anything,” Curry said, “it’s about ending what you began.”

This could prove difficult. Over the past 4 months, Curry video chatted with professors while within the Warriors’ training room, jammed out papers on the team charter and conducted research during breaks at endorsement shoots — anything to finish his coursework by the May 9 deadline.

Former Director of Athletics Jim Murphy and Dr. Susan Roberts on either side of Chris Clunie with the Stephen Curry fathead at Davidson’s 2022 commencement.

Chris Clunie/Davidson athletics/

The late nights and early mornings all became price it when he FaceTimed with Sonya on Mother’s Day. As her oldest son told her he was about to graduate from Davidson, Sonya began to cry. Stephen had kept his return to highschool a secret. In case a nasty grade or credit issue further delayed his commencement, he didn’t wish to disappoint the lady who had taught him the worth of education.

As a child, Stephen and his two siblings, Seth and Sydel, attended the Montessori school Sonya ran in Huntersville, N.C. An enormous reason Stephen selected Davidson — a prestigious liberal arts college— was because his mom wanted him to be challenged academically.

Within the decade-plus after Stephen left school a yr early to declare for the NBA draft, Sonya often went out of her method to mention that two of her three children were college graduates: Seth from Duke and Sydel from Elon. Saturday morning, as she reviewed Stephen’s final grades during a Zoom call with Stephen, Davidson president Carol Quillen, men’s basketball coach Bob McKillop and athletic director Chris Clunie, Sonya said with a smirk, “Now I even have nothing to tease Stephen about.”

Stephen chuckled. For a very long time, he wanted desperately to listen to those words, just for a chaotic schedule and a pandemic to scuttle his plans.

Two years after Curry went No. 7 overall to the Warriors within the 2009 draft, he re-enrolled at Davidson through the NBA lockout. For several months, he attended 8 a.m. classes, where he took tests and contributed to group projects as classmates stared at him in awe.

Director of Athletics Chris Clunie and Dr. Clark Ross with the Stephen Curry fathead at the Davidson commencement.

Director of Athletics Chris Clunie and Dr. Clark Ross with the Stephen Curry fathead on the Davidson commencement.

Chris Clunie/Davidson athletics/

By the point the lockout led to December 2011, Curry had accomplished three more courses. All that remained between him and a diploma was a research paper on tattoos (the ultimate requirement for a 300-level sociology class), a senior thesis and an independent study project.

Shortly after Curry broke his left hand early within the 2019-20 season, he called Clunie and asked for help putting together a plan to graduate. Clunie, a former Davidson basketball player who has known Curry since Curry’s senior yr of highschool, began to contact professors. But then any potential classes were placed on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It wasn’t until this past January that Curry finally enrolled at Davidson again. The varsity had expanded its online offerings through the pandemic, which allowed Clunie to work with Curry’s manager, Tiffany Williams, and several other faculty members to map out an itinerary that fit Curry’s schedule.

On quite a few occasions, Curry Zoomed with professors at 10 or 11 p.m. ET because that was the one time his basketball, parenting and sponsorship obligations afforded. During those meetings, he discussed assignments and reviewed his progress.

“This has really been a team effort,” Ross said. “So many individuals put a lot into this, which really speaks to how much we take care of Steph. But ultimately, he was the one doing the work.”

The Davidson Women’s Basketball coaching staff poses with the Stephen Curry fathead at the school’s 2022 commencement.

The Davidson Women’s Basketball coaching staff poses with the Stephen Curry fathead at the varsity’s 2022 commencement.

Chris Clunie/Davidson athletics/

It helped that Curry’s life experience was applicable to much of his coursework. While working on that paper about tattoos, Curry used his teammates as research subjects. During long flights, he interviewed Gary Payton II, Draymond Green and others in regards to the meaning behind their body art.

Curry’s senior thesis consisted of a 24-page paper and a half-hour podcast about advancing gender equity in sports. As a father to 2 young daughters, he has spent loads of time in recent times excited about how girls often aren’t given the identical athletic opportunities as boys.

Curry’s interest in the topic only grew in November 2018, when a 9-year-old girl named Riley Morrison wrote him a letter asking why his Under Armour shoes didn’t are available girls’ sizes online. Along with writing Morrison back, Curry corrected the issue with Under Armour’s website; founded a scholarship for women who bring about change of their communities, and even let Morrison design her own sneaker.

The story of his experience with Morrison was a key a part of Curry’s thesis. Using lots of the concepts and terms he learned in his sociology courses, he detailed how major corporations comparable to Under Amour may help take women’s sports to a different level.

“I used to be really impressed by how much care and thought he put into this,” said Gayle Kaufman, a Davidson sociology professor who oversaw Curry’s senior thesis. “It wasn’t the sort of thing where he was doing it simply to get it done. It was objectively a superb thesis.”

The Morrison anecdote was also the topic of one among 4 3-4 minute videos Curry did for his independent-study project.

With the guidance of Ross and Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker, Curry wrote each script, then recited it on camera as a part of a category called, “The Power of Story.” Other videos featured Curry interviewing Clint Smith III, a Davidson alum and best-selling creator; Curry discussing why the notion of being “underrated” means a lot to him, and his sharing a story from his freshman yr of faculty by which McKillop taught him the importance of toughness.

Though Curry was disillusioned to miss the ultimate month of the regular season with a sprained ligament in his left foot, he appreciated that the injury gave him overtime to complete his coursework. It wasn’t enough for him to merely earn his degree. Provided that he knows far more now than he did when he left Davidson, Curry wanted strong grades.

His professors declined to disclose his spring GPA, but they did concede that this was top-of-the-line semesters of his college profession. Sunday morning, as he watched Davidson’s commencement ceremony over Zoom, Curry was overwhelmed with nostalgia for his experiences there.

The rap video he shot his junior yr about his favorite cafeteria. The late nights working with friends on “The Davidson Show,” a spread program broadcast on campus. The community pride when Curry led the Wildcats to the 2008 Elite Eight.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during an interview following Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks at Chase Center, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in San Francisco, Calif. The Warriors won 112-87.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during an interview following Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks at Chase Center, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in San Francisco, Calif. The Warriors won 112-87.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

At a time by which many NBA hopefuls view college as a six-month pit stop before draft preparations, Curry is a little bit of an anomaly. Davidson, where he scored a school-record 2,635 points in only three years after receiving zero high-major offers out of highschool, is central to his identity.

His Twitter and Instagram bios proclaim himself as a “Davidson Wildcat.” At any time when the Warriors practice in the world before a game against the Hornets, Curry insists that they stand up shots on campus at John M. Belk Arena.

Under Armour’s Curry Brand sponsors the Davidson men’s and girls’s basketball teams. Within the campus bookstore, fans should buy his jersey and know that the profits are going to his Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation. The Wildcats actually have a women’s athletic-scholarship initiative in Curry’s name.

“We try to actually orient what Davidson does around what Stephen desires to do, somewhat than what we wish from Stephen,” Clunie said. “We were capable of cultivate some pretty cool things, and it’s all a direct reflection of who Steph is as an individual.”

Davidson's Stephen Curry (30) celebrates following Davidson's 82-76 win over Gonzaga in a first round NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, March 21, 2008. Curry scored 40 point in the game. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Davidson’s Stephen Curry (30) celebrates following Davidson’s 82-76 win over Gonzaga in a primary round NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, March 21, 2008. Curry scored 40 point in the sport. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Chuck Burton / AP

Added McKillop: “There’s no person on our planet that doesn’t understand that Stephen Curry’s fingerprints are throughout Davidson College athletics. More importantly, they’re throughout Davidson College. And that’s all due to Stephen Curry.”

When Clunie became Davidson’s AD in 2018, he heard some variation of the identical query from a whole bunch of alums: When will you retire Curry’s jersey? Given its academic status, faculty only retires the numbers of former players who graduated.

But considering all Curry has done for the tiny college 22 miles north of Charlotte, some donors lobbied for Davidson to make an exception. Curry refused. When the Wildcats stopped requiring a level for inclusion in the varsity’s athletic Hall of Fame, he again declined, telling Clunie that he desired to wait until he graduated.

Now, with diploma in hand, Curry is prepared to begin talking about Hall-of-Fame and jersey-retirement festivities. Knowing that he made good on his promise to his mom should only make the celebrations sweeter.

“It was special,” Curry said of telling Sonya on Mother’s Day that he was about to graduate. “Once I left, I knew that was an enormous a part of seeing something through, getting that degree.

“I’m just so glad I finally got to affix my siblings as college grads. I’m not the odd one out anymore.”

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff author. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Con_Chron

 

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