This column appeared in The Japan Times in January 2009. The late John Neumann, who passed away this week at age 68, saw absolute greatness in Steph Curry very early on, recognizing that he possessed supreme skills.
Neumann analyzes Curry, recalls Pistol Pete
By Ed Odeven
Every dozen years or so, a young athlete arrives on the scene — Cristiano Ronaldo, Usain Bolt or LeBron James, for instance — with the demeanor, athleticism and poise beyond their years to be the next standard-bearer of excellence in that sport.
You may not know it yet, but Stephen Curry is on the verge of becoming one of those special players, and Rizing Fukuoka coach John Neumann is one of his biggest fans.
“I wish Curry the best,” Neumann said recently, “because he is a credit to basketball and a leader. These are the things I admire about him.”
Curry, a junior guard from tiny Davidson College (enrollment: 1,700) near Charlotte, N.C., became an instant success story as a college freshman when he averaged 21.5 points per game in 2006-07.
The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry increased that output to 25.9 last season, a season in which his scoring prowess earned him legions of fans thanks to his magical performance in the NCAA Tournament — four straight games of 30 or more points.
In doing so, he became only the fourth man in NCAA Tournament history to do this in his first four tourney games. He was held to 25 in an Elite Eight loss to Kansas.
This season, he is the leading scorer in the NCAA’s Division I (347 schools), averaging 29.1 ppg entering this week’s play. He also leads the Southern Conference in both assists (6.5) and steals (3.0), and is among the nation’s top 10 in both categories. No other player is in the national top 10 in all three categories.
Dick Jerardi, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote a recent piece that offered historical perspective between Curry’s career and that of the late “Pistol Pete” Maravich, whose rise to stardom began at Louisiana State University (1967-70) before a 10-year NBA career.
Jerardi pointed out that Curry has an outside shot at breaking Maravich’s all-time D-I points record (3,667) if he continues to average in the neighborhood of 30 points per game for the remainder of this season and returns to college next fall, instead of skipping his senior season to enter the NBA, and does the same.
Maravich played three seasons — freshmen were not permitted to play on the varsity squad at the time — at LSU and averaged a staggering 44.2 ppg, a career record that will probably never be broken.
Neumann, of course, remembers those days vividly. The second-year coach of the bj-league’s Fukuoka squad starred at the University of Mississippi from 1969-71, and played against Pistol Pete in college and in the NBA.
He, too, was a gifted scorer, averaging an NCAA-best 40.1 ppg in the 1970-71 season.
Now, after nearly four decades since Pistol Pete and Johnny Neumann were the brightest offensive stars of the Southeastern Conference, Neumann was asked if he would like to see Curry break his former foe’s NCAA record.
“To be honest, Pete was a good friend of mine and no I wouldn’t like anyone to break his record, because he was special and he found God late in life and he died on a basketball court,” Neumann said.
Indeed, Maravich died on Jan. 5, 1988, suffering a heart attack in a 3-on-3 game in Pasadena, Calif. He was 40 years old.
Maravich was a pure scorer, capable of knocking down shots with regularity from anywhere on the court. His astounding scoring totals would have increased dramatically if he had played his entire career in the 3-point era (the NBA adopted the 3-point shot for the 1979-80 season; the NCAA followed suit a few years later).
For astute students of the game, Curry’s shooting ability reminds them of Pistol Pete’s. His all-around skills are quite impressive as well, according to Neumann.
“I think Curry is a great passer and plays to help his team win,” Neumann stated.
The numbers support that claim. Davidson posted a 29-5 record in 2006-07, went 29-7 last season and took a 14-3 record into Wednesday’s contest against Furman College.
Curry isn’t just a talented scorer who tries to beat opponents all by himself.
“I know that he can shoot and does it as good as anyone, but what no one ever talks about is how he sees the floor and can pass and generate offense for his teammates also,” said Neumann.
Curry’s rise to stardom has been a joy to watch. And here’s even better news: The journey isn’t over.
In terms of potential, Curry has just scratched the surface, showcasing skills that ooze out of every pore in his body, skills that only a handful of players possess every generation.
Just ask Neumann.