Even now, after Stephen Curry won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, Bob McKillop does not question why all the other coaches overlooked him. He understood how the demerits against Curry – boyish looks, thin frame, scraping 6 feet – would cause a major-conference recruiter to walk out of a gym without so much as noticing him. “He was certainly not what you could consider an overwhelming athlete,” McKillop said.
McKillop became the beneficiary of all those major-conference coaches seeing only what Curry was not. They could not recognize what Curry was, not in time, and so he would become one of the best players in college basketball at tiny Davidson under McKillop.
Davidson. It is worth contemplating now where Curry came from, and how some strains of athletic talent remain submerged upon first glimpse. Nine years before he won the MVP, as a high school senior, Curry stood 6-feet tall and weighed 160 pounds. Famously, no power conference school offered a scholarship, not even Virginia Tech, even though his father Dell may be the best player ever to play there. Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg offered Curry the opportunity to walk-on. Seth Greenberg works on television now.
But McKillop does not blame Greenberg or anybody else. Even he underestimated Curry, at least in the beginning. McKillop, who knew Curry’s father, a longtime NBA sharpshooter, believed Stephen Curry would become a very good scorer at Davidson. After he watched Curry for three weeks at practice, McKillop told boosters at a luncheon Curry would become the best player in school history.
“He’s a got a magnetic capacity about him that endears him to teammates, to fans,” McKillop said. “He makes it so easy to coach him. There are so many people who live in this word, when they see someone achieve great success, they’re jealous of them. LeBron James. Kobe Bryant. I don’t think anyone is jealous of Stephen Curry.”
Curry’s genius always hid in all the subtleties that appear slowly, that surface as a collection of traits rather than obvious, blunt talent. Hand-eye coordination is a common skill; McKillop began to notice, early on, that Curry had a magnificent foot-eye coordination – his footwork off screens, or darting around a defender, was so fluid he moved like a phantom. He possessed instinctive vision for passing and knowing where to find open spaces. He paid attention to every detail, including the placement of his fingers on the ball for his shot.
“He was a scientist,” McKillop said.
Curry did not overwhelm with physical attributes, with raw speed or power, but that does not mean he is not a gifted athlete. He possessed a different brand of athleticism, a kinetic grace. McKillop watched Curry play Little League as a 10-year-old, and he believes Curry could have become a professional in either baseball or golf.
At Davidson, Curry could score from the start. He scored 30 points at Michigan in the second college game of his career and averaged 21.5 points his freshman season, which ended with a 30-point game in an NCAA tournament loss to Maryland.
The traits that made McKillop believe so totally in him were less tangible. After scoring binges, Curry would redirect praise to the passer, the screener, assistant coaches, anyone on the team except himself. He practiced like a demon, hyper-focused on his weaknesses. McKillop could play him only six minutes per game at point guard as a freshman. He improved his ball-handling enough to play about 12 to 15 minutes at the point as a sophomore. As a junior, his last season, he only played point guard.
“With his work ethic, you knew he was going to get better as a dribbler and a passer,” McKillop said. “Each step in the progression, he got better as a dribbler. Now, he’s light-years ahead of where he was at Davidson. His investment is hard to find at a professional level.”
Curry’s shooting fashioned a new framework for how NBA offenses can operate. Curry made 44 percent of his three-pointers, shot 53 percent from inside the arc and drained 91 percent of his free throws. The mere threat of Curry’s shot formed Golden State’s best-in-the-NBA offense, creating space for open shots and lanes for driving. Tellingly, the Warriors had an effective field goal percentage of 56.3 with Curry on the floor and 49 with him on the bench.
His impact cannot be overstated. The Warriors, even while scoring 110 points per game, fielded a below-average offense with Curry on the bench, according to Basketball-Reference’s offensive rating system. The Warriors, who outscored opponents by 820 points this season, were outscored by 100 points when Curry rested. They became the 10th team to win at least 67 games, but without Curry on the floor they were average at best.
Almost by himself, Curry created one of the best offenses in NBA history. He changed the geometry of the court, a reshaping of offensive basketball other teams cannot replicate unless they find another Stephen Curry. He didn’t color outside the lines so much as he redrew them.
Last month, McKillop visited Curry at a game in Oakland. In the Warriors’ 63rd victory of the season, Curry broke his own NBA record for three-pointers in a single season. Afterward, Curry chatted with his old college coach. He never mentioned the record. Instead, he told McKillop that blowout victories had sent him to the bench for 18 fourth quarters, and that he needed to improve his conditioning and core strength for the playoffs.
“You tell me what NBA star, who is knocking on the door of the MVP, leading his team to the NBA regular-season championship, is going to be thinking about cardio and core  games into the season,” McKillop said.
Despite the humble place from which Curry launched his career, his winning MVP does not shock McKillop. He would not have projected it, but he would not have dismissed it, either.
“I’m bold enough to predict he’s going to get even better,” McKillop said. “He’s got that mindset. He’s got that mission. He wants to be the best he can be. He still thinks there’s room to get better.”
McKillop watched Monday as Curry gave his MVP acceptance speech. It didn’t surprise him when Curry spent 20 minutes thanking teammates, with specific examples of how each one inspired him. The entire world had come to know the same player McKillop discovered at Davidson. No one is overlooking Stephen Curry anymore.