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Stephen Curry’s Graduation From Davidson Was a Long Time Coming

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DAVIDSON, N.C. — On the primary day of the autumn semester in 2007, Stephen Curry sat in a category on gender and society at Davidson College, a small, liberal arts school 20 miles north of Charlotte, N.C.

Prof. Gayle Kaufman, who was teaching the category, began the roll call alphabetically.

At the tip of the Cs, she called out, “Steven Curry?”

The scholars erupted in laughter. Curry smiled. “It’s Steph-en,” he said, politely.

Kaufman had been on sabbatical the 12 months before, which was probably why she appeared to be one in every of the few people in Davidson — each the school and the town of 10,000 people then — who didn’t know how one can pronounce his name.

Five months before, Curry had led Davidson to the N.C.A.A. Division I men’s basketball tournament in his freshman season, gaining local celebrity status that might eventually be dwarfed by his superstardom as a four-time N.B.A. champion with Golden State. But to his fellow students, Curry was just one in every of them. He made mix CDs and funny videos together with his friends, studied within the library and ate on the Outpost, the one late-night eatery on campus. Curry said he “was at all times a breakfast-at-night type guy.”

“Everyone seems to be truly a student at Davidson,” said Jason Richards, Curry’s friend and college teammate. “There are not any superstars. There’s nobody walking the pathways like, ‘Oh, wow, there’s so-and-so.’ You knew who you’d pass in your technique to class, and also you knew everyone in school by first name. It’s what makes Davidson so special, and so special to Stephen: Nobody is larger than the school itself.”

But because the past few days showed, Curry comes close.

Marshall Oelsen walked into Stephen Curry’s freshman dorm room firstly of the autumn 2006 semester and saw oversize pairs of Charlotte Hornets basketball shorts on the ground. He asked whose they were. Curry said they belonged to his father, Dell Curry, who spent 10 seasons with the Hornets.

“Those first months, he was just referred to as Dell Curry’s kid,” said Oelsen, who lived down the hall.

But one October afternoon, Bryant Barr, Stephen Curry’s roommate and teammate, told some friends: “Guys, Steph is the true thing. He’s going to be huge.”

Chris Clunie, the varsity’s director of athletics, played on the boys’s basketball team for 4 seasons before Curry arrived. “I describe Davidson basketball as B.S. and A.S. — Before Steph and After Steph,” Clunie said.

Clunie’s squad was successful, earning a No. 15 seed within the N.C.A.A. tournament the 12 months before Curry got here. But once Curry arrived? “It was a launchpad,” Clunie said.

Curry became Davidson’s profession leader in points and 3-pointers. The Wildcats made it to the tournament in his freshman and sophomore seasons, including a magical run to the round of 8 in 2008. Curry scored 40 points and made eight 3-pointers in a first-round upset of Gonzaga.

After his junior 12 months, Curry left for the N.B.A., and Golden State drafted him seventh overall.

Chris Gruber, Davidson’s dean of admission and financial aid, said applications surged after the 2008 tournament run. “It allowed us to be known in lots of cases,” he said. “It put us on a map when it comes to, ‘Isn’t that the place where …?’ ”

Gruber said even now the varsity is “riding that wave.”

Davidson men’s basketball relies heavily on recruiting international players. Coach Matt McKillop, whose father, Bob, coached Curry, said the primary conversation often starts with the recruit saying, “I do know Davidson — that’s where Steph Curry went.”

Jane Avinger and her husband, Bob Avinger, began attending games once they moved to Davidson in 1967. Curry, she said, made them go consistently. When the Wildcats made it to the round of 16 in Detroit in 2008, they bought plane tickets and traveled there to cheer on the team. “We’d never done anything like that,” she said.

Signs of Curry are all over the place on the town. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop on Principal Street has a dipped, rainbow-sprinkle waffle cone called #30, after Curry’s jersey number. Sabor Latin Street Grill on Jetton Street has a big mural of Curry painted on a wall inside. At Principal Street Books, a basketball-themed children’s book by Curry titled “I Have a Superpower” is displayed by the register.

On Thursday, Curry announced that the basketball court on the Ada Jenkins Center, a nonprofit in Davidson, can be refurbished by his Curry Brand with Under Armour; the Eat.Learn.Play. Foundation he began together with his wife, Ayesha Curry; and The Summit Foundation.

During Davidson’s 2008 tournament run, Joanne Shackelford hung a bedsheet with words of support from her front porch. Lots of of town residents joined her. This past week, with Curry returning to town for a special celebration, townspeople were encouraged to hold their sheets again. “Pleased with you #30,” read one. “Congrats, Steph,” was written in black and red ink, Davidson’s school colours, on one other.

“It’s just so wild that he would find yourself here for school, to play for this team, because in hindsight, he’s obviously one of the best player on the planet,” said Adah Fitzgerald, the owner of Principal Street Books. “Like, what? He doesn’t even have to return back fairly often or must pay much attention to us as a town — and we’ll just eternally be die-hard fans.”

Some people had driven from so far as Florida to be among the many nearly 5,000 people crowded into Belk Arena on Davidson’s campus on Wednesday. Mayor Rusty Knox of Davidson was there. Sai Tummala and Jack Brown, Davidson men’s soccer players who said they were drawn to the varsity due to Curry, were in floor seats with other students. So were Curry’s wife and the couple’s three children: Riley, 10; Ryan, 7; and Canon, 4.

Finally, Stephen Curry was there, too.

Wearing cap and gown, he shook hands and offered hugs as the group cheered. Curry smiled as he took his seat within the front row next to Ayesha. Thirteen years after leaving Davidson, he had earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology. He missed the varsity’s graduation ceremony in May because he was slightly busy attempting to win his fourth N.B.A. championship. But now, Davidson was having a ceremony only for him.

“I made a joke the opposite day: Would we placed on an event like this if the president was coming to town?” said Joey Beeler, Davidson’s director of athletic communications.

Afterward, Curry said it was “almost overwhelming.”

The ceremony also marked Curry’s induction into the varsity’s Athletics Hall of Fame and the retirement of his No. 30 jersey. Davidson had long required inductees to graduate first, however the rule was modified in 2019, partly, for Curry. Still, he refused the honour, wanting to attend until he’d graduated.

He took classes in 2011, during an N.B.A. work stoppage, and in December 2019 he called Clunie, the director of athletics, to map out a plan to finish the ultimate few classes for his degree. Then the coronavirus pandemic stalled his plans. But last winter, Curry called Clunie again.

Clunie scheduled calls and video conferences with professors before practices, after shootarounds, even after games. Curry said he accomplished the majority of his work in March and April, when he missed a dozen games with a foot injury.

“Among the professors had to inform him to decelerate,” Clunie said.

Kaufman, the gender and society professor, was his adviser for a thesis on advancing gender equality in sports. Because the N.B.A. playoffs unfolded, Curry still hadn’t finished. Around midnight on a Wednesday, Kaufman received an email from Curry: “Dr. K, I would like to guarantee you, I can have every part finished, and to you, by Friday night,” he wrote.

“It was that moment where I used to be like, ‘holy, wow,’” Kaufman said. She added, “And sure enough, he finished the paper, and it was great.”

By completing his degree, Curry had given Bob McKillop, his college coach, a 100% graduation rate for his players during a 33-year tenure. McKillop, whom Curry has remained close with, retired in June, at some point after Curry was named the most dear player of the N.B.A. finals.

“He has given this community, this faculty, this athletic department a present that, in my judgment, is unparalleled — the gift being his time and his love,” McKillop said. “Those are the 2 most prized gifts that I feel we as human beings have.”

At his graduation on Wednesday, Curry held up his diploma, grinning. He turned his tassel and threw his hat high into the air on the stage as the group cheered, cellphones held aloft.

“Few alumni are as well referred to as you’re, Stephen,” Doug Hicks, the president of Davidson, said throughout the ceremony. “OK, actually, none are.”

As Curry stepped to the rostrum because the afternoon’s final speaker, chants of “M-V-P!” rang out.

“The most effective decision I ever made was to return to Davidson College,” he said, adding that he cried when he decided to depart early for the N.B.A.

“What Davidson stands for lives with me each time I step on the court, and each time I attempt to impact lives,” he said. “How we represent Davidson in every room we walk into — it matters.”

Later, in an interview, he said that his Golden State teammate Draymond Green texted him after the ceremony.

“He said, ‘I’ve never seen you smile like that — once you were on that stage,’” Curry said. “I didn’t think people could read through that.”

Curry said Davidson “was type of the start of a significant evolution in my life, and I actually have so many memories of each experience, everyone I met, and the support of the community throughout all of it. That speaks volumes to why I would like to return back, and why yesterday was so special. That’s such a giant a part of my origin story.”

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