In December of 2005, the journey of Winter Park basketball included an eight hour bus ride from the ninth grade center to Columbia, South Carolina for the Chic-Fil-a Classic. We pulled out three short of our full roster, Adam Tindal and Sieron Dottin, limited minutes role players quit, and sixth man Willie Crenshaw was missing. We left a day early to watch St. Anthony’s play their opening game that night, and we were scheduled to play Norcross (Ga.), a team loaded with Laker Jodi Meeks and Gani Lawal, the following night.
St. Anthony’s put a thirty point beating on a local team. We sat behind the Friars bench to watch the legendary Bob Hurley coach his team. He barked and snarled even in the context of this uncompetitive game, and commanded the complete and undivided attention of his players during every dead ball or timeout. His team a reflection of his unrelenting focus. His method transparent. His results inescapable.
As we waited to play Norcross the next night for the right to face St. Anthony’s, we watched a small Christian school from North Carolina win their game. The team, like it’s star, was fair-skinned and otherwise unimpressive. The star’s name was Steph Curry. He could shoot, and had an obvious feel for the game, but there was nothing physically that stood out. He looked more like a sophomore than a senior, and my initial impression upon hearing that he was committed to Davidson was maybe if he hit the weight room, he might be a decent player for them.
We lost to Norcross that night. They were better. They beat St. Anthony’s the following night in overtime, and I assumed at that point won the tournament.
We beat a local team, and on the final day of the tournament, I learned three things. Upon opening the local paper, the sports headline blared about the poor results of the local teams at the Chic-Fil-a Classic. I snickered that this was likely due to the fact they sucked, and got on with the business of getting breakfast.
We played a local team a few hours later, Lower Richland with Syracuse signee, Mike Jones, a 6’8″ post player. The rest of the team wasn’t that impressive and we built a 38-31 lead in the third quarter when two of the three things I would learn that day collided. The officiating was atrocious, and strongly favored the local team. At game’s end Lower Richland would shoot 31 free throws to our 3, but up 7, we had our destiny in our hands as Lower Richland had played a 3-2 zone all game. If we held the ball, we would have shortened the game and/or forced them out of the zone. Instead, we played….casting jumpers against the zone and absorbing unjust fouls at a criminal rate. We lost.
I was furious. We were wronged, and contributed to our own undoing by failing to dictate the game at a time when we had the opportunity to do so.
The final thing I learned that day occurred a few hours into our trip home when we leaned Steph Curry led his team to victory over Norcross. Though it wasn’t billed that way, or appeared that way, he was the biggest star and best player in the tournament.