Nov. 25, 2009

By Anthony Oliva III

On November 14, Davidson opened its season against then-No. 10 Butler – a mid major team that, much like Davidson did in 2008, could turn heads on the national stage.

On that same night, less than 300 miles away in Milwaukee, the player that put Davidson on the map that year was up to his old tricks - but in a different uniform.

In front of 6,713 fans in Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, Davidson played an inspired first half only to succumb to Butler, 73-62.

And to the north, playing for the Golden State Warriors in front of nearly 15,000 people in the Bradley Center, former Davidson star Stephen Curry was vintage. He scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field, including making his only two attempts from 3-point range. In fact, if you watched enough of his college highlights, you could be convinced he never missed one from there.  

And it was on this night that Davidson got its first real taste of life without their superstar. Their folk hero. The player that took the program to levels it has never seen before. The player that with every arching swish made Davidson, the loveable underdog, a household name as it got within one win of the Final Four two seasons ago. And, the player that had the ability to not only lead nation in scoring, but to singlehandedly give the Wildcats a chance to win any game they played.

“He put Davidson on the national map and how many players can do that for a mid major program,” Davidson Head Coach Bob McKillop said. “Larry Bird did that for Indiana State back in the 70s. A host of players did that for Gonzaga. A number of players did that for Southern Illinois and Butler. Even when George Mason had that magnificent run, they didn’t have one guy that put them on the map. But here, it was Davidson and one player - with and a group of teammates. But it was his face that was the face of the program.”

Curry’s impact goes far beyond stats, but his numbers are staggering. Last year, the lanky sharpshooter averaged 28.6 points per game, tops in Division I. He also led the SoCon with 5.6 assists and was second in the conference with 2.5 steals per game. In his three- year career, he won 85 games and went to two NCAA Tournaments and one NIT.

“He’s probably the best player I ever played with or against,” senior Will Archambault said. “A great shooter. A great friend. It was just a great experience playing with him.”

Davidson, naturally, has missed this once-in-a-generation player in its lineup. After the loss to Butler, the Wildcats lost three in a row in the Charleston Classic, including a two-point loss to defending NIT champion Penn State.

If the loss of the Curry wasn’t enough, Davidson also graduated its leading rebounder, Andrew Lovedale, and last year’s SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year, Max Paulhus Gosselin. Both were integral parts to the team, but Curry is irreplaceable one. The 185-pounder left giant-sized shoes to fill, and with all the losses, it’s conceivable that a mid-major team could get caught in the nostalgia of its magical era.

Not Davidson.

“You have to move on,” Archambault said. “You can’t dwell on it.”

Learning to deal with setbacks is a mindset that has fittingly translated to the court for the Wildcats.

“One of our main sayings or mottos is ‘next play’,” junior guard Brendan McKillop said. “You make a mistake or you make a turnover, you can’t dwell on it. You just have to go on to the next play. That’s been one of the main things we’ve been harping on this year.”

This is especially important because the margin for error without Curry is significantly smaller. In past years, he could carry a team on his boney shoulders and make a shot when the team needed it most. This year, it will take a few players to replace his scoring. In fact, no player on the Davidson roster has averaged double-digits for a season in his collegiate career.

“It’s a committee that has (stepped up), and that’s the way it’s going to be, and that’s the way it always was,” Bob McKillop said. “We cannot do anything with one individual. We don’t have the fortune of recruiting success to bring someone in that can replace Stephen and never will. So, it’s a committee.”

Through four games, Jake Cohen is leading the team with 10.5 points a night with Archambault just behind him with 10.3. Four players are averaging at least seven points a contest.

Archambault, named to the preseason SoCon all-conference team, is a likely candidate to play a bigger role filling this team’s scoring and rebounding voids.  

“(Archambault) is a player that may not score 20 points, but he can get close to a double-double every night when he puts his mind to it,” Bob McKillop said of his 6-foot-6 forward.

Archambault is part of a senior class that has not only won a lot of games, but has a lot of experience playing in big games and big moments. The experience of Archambault, Bryant Barr, Steve Rossiter and Dan Nelms will prove valuable for this team as it tries to turn things around.

A junior that will have a bigger role this year is Brendan McKillop, who takes over at point guard – the position Curry vacated.

“My role as point guard is going to be a lot different than his last year, but it’s been fun so far.” Brendan McKillop said, comparing himself to Curry. “I have to understand that I don’t have to be the playmaker he was. I just have to be solid and stick to the system and let our game plan take care of itself.”

Brendan McKillop is about as familiar with the game plan as anybody can be. His father is the coach. His brother, Matt, was a former Davidson point guard and is now an assistant coach. And, he had the luxury of learning from not only Curry, but also Jason Richards, a Davidson point guard who in 2007-08 was second in the nation in assists.

Even with this pedigree, the fact remains that he, or anybody else on the team, can’t do what No. 30 did. And that’s where the problem for Davidson lies.

“Everyone on this team understands that nobody is going to replace Stephen Curry,” Bob McKillop said. “But I think everyone does understand that we all cannot miss an assignment. There can be no missing links on our team.”

And so it goes for Davidson. A team simultaneously filled with admiration for their departed superstar but also a life-goes-on mentality. Curry will forever be synonymous with Davidson, and from the way his former teammates and coaches talk about him; they’re fine with that.

“He has told us that he will always wear Davidson on his heart,” Bob McKillop said.

But as long as he isn’t wearing Davidson on his jersey, the Wildcats will have to scramble to replace his irreplaceable production.

The players it lost and the early defeats will not deter a proud program like Davidson, however. Davidson, which was a good program before Curry ever played a game for the Wildcats, won its conference seven times in 14 years under coach McKillop before Curry. Certainly this program’s history indicates that it would be able to overcome even these substantial setbacks. Especially this team.

In fact, it’s one of their mottos.

Next play.