Programming note: The "Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards" -- featuring Bay Area stars Stephen Vogt, Stephen Curry, Hunter Pence, Derek Carr, Torrey Smith and Tara VanDerveer -- will air on Jan. 31 at 7:30pm on CSN Bay Area and at 11pm on CSN California.
Though he now sits atop the NBA world, the basketball journey of Warriors star Stephen Curry has gone through his own personal jungle, with his own self-belief often tangling with the skepticism and rejection of others.
Perhaps no one outside Curry’s family has witnessed this more than his former coach at Davidson College. Bob McKillop not only has been a witness, he has shared many of those experiences.
Which may be why even now, with Curry as the reigning NBA MVP and McKillop still coaching the Davidson Wildcats, the two rarely go more than a few days without talking or texting.
“I talk to him probably once a week now,” Curry says. “Sometimes, it’s about random stuff, keeping tabs on him and the team that’s representing the Wildcats right now. It’s the same old Bob, pushing guys, yelling at them, getting on their case.
“He can do that because he has so much love for each one of his players, and that never stops no matter how far we are away from the campus.”
McKillop’s influence on Curry resulted in the coach being honored at the Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards this week. The show can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, on CSN Bay Area.
McKillop flew in from North Carolina – in the middle of his team’s season – to join Curry among the presenters and honorees at the Fairmont Hotel. He would not have missed it for all the chocolate in Switzerland.
“It’s one of the most extraordinary gifts that’s ever been given to me,” McKillop says of his relationship with Curry. “That’s the greatness of Steph Curry. He’s continually giving gifts to people He can make a devil look like an angel. He has the capacity to make people feel good.
McKillop has watched Curry transform from a rail-thin 10-year-old into a man who has fans around the globe eating out of his hand. Everywhere the Warriors go, folks are lining up to get a glimpse of the man who is taking the game into new and exciting territory.
“He somehow has the ability to get people to root for him,” McKillop says. “There are so many people out there that are jealous. They root against LeBron. They root against Cam Newton. They root against whomever. But Steph doesn’t get anybody to root against him.
“He is able to transcend that by the way he represents his family, himself, his club and his teammates. He makes people feel good. He gives joy. How many people give joy not just because of how they perform but also the way they are?”
Curry, 27, points to lessons learned at Davidson. He appreciates that McKillop recruited him when others turned away – including Virginia Tech, the alma mater of Curry’s parents, which invited him as a walk-on. McKillop believed when few others outside the Curry family did.
“He just gave me so much confidence and opportunity,” Curry recalls. “He told me when he recruited me that he was going to push me, that I could do some special things, not only in college but also at the next level.
“The biggest influence he has on myself and any other player that play for him is that he develops total character. He puts as much value on that, if not more, than what you do on the court. He’s like a low-key father figure for everybody that comes through there because he pushes you so much.”
McKillop said two things about teen-age Steph stood out. One, he had uncanny vision and anticipation at both ends of the court. And, two, he had a short memory.
“He never dwelled in the past,” McKillop recalls. “If he made a mistake – or a few mistakes – he forgot. He absolutely forgot. And this was as a high school player.”
Those same characteristics are visible today, as Curry is the leader of the defending champions, who have been even better this season. Yes, he’s the son of former NBA player Dell Curry. Yes, there were other coaches who helped along the way.
But Steph Curry will have a lifelong connection with his former coach, for reasons that go far beyond basketball. Catchphrases instilled from his time at Davidson, just outside Charlotte, remain embedded in his mind.
It’s a great day to be a Wildcat! TCC! (Trust, Commitment, Care). Keep sleeping in the streets!
The latter phrase, which McKillop concedes to lifting from former NBA player and coach Kevin Loughery, translates roughly to “always be prepared, ready to find a solution, no matter the challenge.” Or, as Curry says, “have that edge about you, even in uncomfortable situations, to be able to hold your own.”
Seven years into his NBA career, Curry is paving a road to the Hall of Fame. Should he get there, you can bet he’ll cite McKillop as one of the reasons.
“You want to do nothing more than to make him proud and be successful for him,” Curry says. “To do your best because of what he invests in you.”