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Cowboys' Curry Makes Most of Second Chance

After Drug Conviction in High School, Freshman Has 'Unbelievably Bright Future'

By Thayer Evans
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page D07

KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 14 -- The envelope stamped with a Chapel Hill, N.C., postmark made its way to Stillwater, Okla., and to the hands of JamesOn Curry shortly after he arrived at Oklahoma State last year.

Curry's parents sent the envelope, mailed first to his home in Mebane, N.C., a transit town located about 20 miles northwest of Chapel Hill, to their son halfway across the country.

JamesOn Curry, the leading scorer in North Carolina high school history, landed at Oklahoma State after his scholarship offer to UNC was revoked. (Charlie Riedel -- AP)

Inside it, Curry found a handwritten letter on Tar Heel stationary bearing the signature of none other than North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams, who had revoked Curry's basketball scholarship after he pled guilty to six felony drug counts in April 2004 for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer posing as a student at Eastern Alamance High School.

Curry, the leading scorer in North Carolina high school history with 3,307 career points, orally committed to North Carolina and then-Tar Heel coach Matt Doherty after his sophomore year. Yet last February, he was one of 60 students in six schools in the Alamance-Burlington district arrested for selling drugs after a five-month investigation and sting operation.

Curry was placed on three years' probation and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, allowing him the opportunity to pursue playing college basketball. A little more than a month later, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder signed with Oklahoma State. With that, Curry was sure he would never hear from the Tar Heels again. And then Williams's letter arrived.

"He said I was great person, and that everybody makes mistakes," said Curry, who keeps the letter in his Stillwater apartment. "He said he's like my number one fan. He keeps up with me right now I'm pretty sure."

Since being inserted into Oklahoma State's starting lineup Jan. 30, Curry has averaged 13 points, just over 3.5 assists and has shot 47 percent from three-point range. For the season, he is averaging nine points per game. Paired with back-court mate John Lucas III, he provides the Cowboys with even more speed and another legitimate three-point threat.

Curry's rising confidence, combined with four returning senior starters from Oklahoma State's Final Four team of a year ago, figures to give the second-seeded Cowboys (24-6) perhaps the best shot of any team to challenge No. 1 seed Illinois (32-1) for the Chicago Regional's Final Four berth.

In the Cowboys' victory over Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals, Curry had 12 points and seven assists, all without committing a turnover in 38 minutes.

"JamesOn has an unbelievably bright future," Jayhawks Coach Bill Self said. "He's terrific. I don't talk to NBA people, but I think from a prospect future he has got the height, he has got the quickness [and] strength. He's explosive, and of course, he's one of the few guys [who] can get it off the catch and off the bounce [to score].

"From my personal opinion, they are much harder to guard when he's in the game."

Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton would much rather talk about Curry's off-the-court accomplishments. When asked about Curry, the 47-year coaching veteran quickly mentioned that he earned all B's on his first semester report card.

"I'm a big believer in second chances," Sutton said. "A few haven't worked out, but JamesOn has. He's been great. Everyone likes him. He hasn't had any problems here at all."

On the court, however, Sutton believes Curry has the potential to be among the best guards he has ever coached.

"He's got a lot of talent," Sutton said. "He really has the chance to be a special player. We're sure glad to have him."

Curry seems to be enjoying his life on the Oklahoma plains as well, where Cowboy fans have done their best embrace him with homemade T-shirts and signs.

"They're great," Curry said. "The best there are."

Still, at times, Curry's mind drifts to Tobacco Road and ACC basketball.

"Outside of the Big 12, I keep up with North Carolina a whole lot," he acknowledged Friday after Oklahoma State's victory over Colorado in the Big 12 tournament.

Growing up in a tiny white mobile home along state Highway 119, Curry was weaned on Tar Heel basketball, often emulating the likes of Vince Carter, Ed Cota, and Jerry Stackhouse. He remains quite fond of this year's UNC team.

"I miss them, boy," Curry said. "Raymond [Felton], Sean May, all them. I still root for them. Those are my boys. I love all those guys."

Curry vividly remembers his most recent conversation with Felton.

He "told me I'll always be his little brother until I guess I die," Curry said. "He's a loyal person, man. You don't meet too many people like that."

Over the last year, Curry has perhaps learned more about forgiveness than he ever knew, which explains his opinion of Williams and the Tar Heels.

"Carolina is a great university," he said. "They did what they had to do. I respect them for that. It's a decision they had to make. I can't have no animosity. I made the mistake."

Oklahoma State can't face the Tar Heels before the Final Four in St. Louis, but if that happens, Curry insists he won't be seeking revenge.

"You can't come out and treat them special," Curry said. "They put their jersey on just like we put our jersey on. It just so happens that they're 15 minutes up the road from my house."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company