Like most great shooters, NBA MVP Stephen Curry can be obsessive.
Terrell Ivory, who knew Curry as a scrawny pre-teen in Charlotte, N.C., and coached him in his final year at Davidson College, is well aware of that obsession.
“He is a creature of habit,” explained Ivory, the Phillips Academy boys basketball coach. “The pregame ritual we did was right before the tip off, we would do a handshake, jump up and then touch shoulders. Then he would walk to the circle for the jump ball.”
Then he’d usually score 30 or more points in his All-American junior campaign with the Wildcats.
Tuesday night he hit for 25 points and the Warriors polished off LeBron James and Cleveland to win their first title in 40 years.
Hard-core Boston fans always back Larry Bird, but more and more NBA experts are proclaiming Curry the greatest shooter the game has ever seen.
As Ivory can attest, that hasn’t happened by accident.
“At the time I was single,” recalled Ivory, who was named Davidson’s director of basketball operations before Curry’s final season (2008-09). “I lived right around the arena. I had the key to the gym. They (shooting sessions) lasted a lot longer than I thought they would. IvoryHe’d be in 1-2 hours depending on what he needed to work on.”
Those Davidson days were magical at the school and across the college basketball world. Like a Bird at Indiana State, David Robinson at Navy and a handful of others, Curry was that rarity, the small-school sensation who carried his club to the bigtime.
“Coach (Bob) McKillop would say, ‘We’re performing on Broadway,’” said Ivory, who attended Phillips as a postgrad and then played football and basketball at Davidson, which is 20 minutes outside his hometown of Charlotte.
“At Madison Square Garden vs. West Virginia, he was unbelievable. We beat some teams we shouldn’t have and that was one of them. He had a 6-7 wing on him but he got shots off normal people don’t make.”
Ivory remembers one LeBron James becoming a Curry fan and coming to a Davidson game or two.
“He hit a 40-footer for the nail in the coffin (against N.C. State,” recalled Ivory. “He ran down court and pointed at LeBron.”
The bright lights and the challenge have always fueled Curry. That’s why Ivory knew Curry would eventually explode after the talk that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ aggressive Matthew Dellavedova was a “Curry-stopper.”
“Without even talking to him, I knew he’d take it personally,” said Ivory.
Curry has a surplus of ammunition to fuel his fire.
A classic late bloomer, he was overlooked by the major colleges, was chosen seventh in the NBA draft behind journeymen like Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio, and even in the finals all the talk has been about LeBron James.
Former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg has been under attack by Hokie fans. How could he not have offered Curry when his father, Dell, was a Hokie great and his mother, Sonya, played volleyball at Va. Tech.?
“I was a college coach (Davidson and Colgate). Understand, your job is on the line,” said Ivory, whose older brother, Titus, also starred in basketball and football at Phillips before enjoying a Hall of Fame basketball career at Penn State.
“It’s hard to take chances when there are so many more physically mature players. Bodies that are ready for the size and speed of the ACC. Obviously, looking back, everybody has 20-20 vision. But things happen the way they are supposed to. He made the best of the situation.”
Ivory doesn’t claim that he knew Curry would develop like this. But there always was something special about him.
“I knew him from when he was 12,” said Ivory. “I worked his dad’s camps. Stephen was always around. I coached his brother (former Duke star Seth Curry) when he was 11 with the Charlotte Stars (AAU team).
“Stephen’s shot was really pretty. Mechanically perfect. He was an unbelievable shooter and really smart.”
Ivory can appreciate what a good story it is.
“They always ask, ‘Did you expect it?,’” he said. “It’s a pretty cool story. The kid nobody recruited, went to a smaller school. It’s hard for anybody to say this was going to happen.”
The Phillips assistant admissions director does get a special thrill watching him play.
“There is a certain pride,” said Ivory, who raves about Curry the person, too. “It means a little more because you have a personal connection. I wouldn’t take credit for anything. But it feels good to know you were there at the beginning.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter at @MullyET.