Stephen Curry’s rise to superstardom has been a joy to watch

Few players bring the same level of excitement to the court game after game as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. This was also true while he played in college.
Today’s entry takes a look back at Curry’s college career when he was still a junior.
This Hoop Scoop column appeared in The Japan Times in January 2009.

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.

Sports — what it’s all about: people

By Ed Odeven

Today, I read two articles that in different ways provided a poignant reminder that sports are, above all, about people — not about Xs and Os, advanced metrics or the latest gimmick play. The relationships that develop between teammates, coaches, fans, front-office staff, media, et al with sports as the backdrop for these interactions is often the most compelling part of it all.

Exhibit A: Brendan F. Quinn’s compelling profile of John Beilein’s coaching journey from upstate New York to the University of Michigan, and all the stops in between.

http://www.mlive.com/john-beilein/

And the other: Glenn Dickey reminisces about his strong ties to sports in recent story posted on his website.

http://glenndickey.com/_gd.php?view_one=yes&which=1660

‘We did not have any casualties in our company and completed more than 1 million miles.’

This column on then-Northern Arizona University cheerleader Kristyna Robinson, who served in Iraq, appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Nov. 19, 2004.

From the front lines to the spirit line

By Ed Odeven

Today marks the end of a special time in Kristyna Robinson’s life, the last football game she’ll participate in as a Northern Arizona cheerleader.

If all had gone as originally planned, this day would’ve taken place last fall. But her life took a different path the day she joined the Army National Guard in 2002.

Robinson, a 1999 graduate of Paradise Valley High School, joined the Army as a college underclassman. She had planned to attend officer candidate school upon completion of her psychology degree, become a military intelligence officer and then join the FBI.

But those plans changed when Robinson and four of her NAU cheerleading mates — National Guard members Joe Wren, a Purple Heart recipient; Brett Jacobson; Glenn Whitting; and Matt Mahaffey — got “the call” in January 2003.

It was then, when the team was training for a national competition, that the five cheerleaders were informed they’d be going to Iraq.

“We were actually at cheer practice when we got called,” Robinson says. “Joe got a voice mail on his phone and (it) said we needed to leave.”

As members of the 1404th Transportation Company, based in Bellemont, the five NAU students were sent to Fort Bliss in Texas for three months before they were ordered to go overseas.

The 1404th served in northern Iraq and in Bilad, which is about one hour north of Baghdad, delivering equipment for helicopters and vehicles, food, supplies — whatever was needed.

Robinson, who went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, served as an 88M, a truck driver/heavy motor vehicle transport operator, and also helped out with communications and administrative support.

During a recent interview, she spoke gratefully about how fortunate her unit was.

“We did not have any casualties in our company and completed more than 1 million miles,” Robinson says.

Like in any war, there were, of course, several life-or-death incidents for Robinson and members of the 1404th.

“We had just pulled out of our compound and we were fired at,” she says, recalling one of those incidents.

“It was probably the scariest because we were in a convoy with fuel trucks. They were aiming for the fuel trucks and it went right in between them. We were three trucks behind them. If it had hit the fuel truck, it would’ve been really bad.”

Mahaffey, who worked as a recoveries specialist, has similar memories.

“The scariest moments for me was when I knew either Kristyna or Joe or somebody that I was very close to was on a convoy there and something happened there,” Mahaffey recalls. “And I didn’t have any information except for ‘the convey got hit’ or … ‘something happened’ … ’til I got back and I was able to see that everybody was OK.”

It was during times like these that Robinson and Mahaffey weren’t nearly as chummy as they’d be on the sideline during a football game or as carefree as they might be during a laid-back afternoon practice at the Skydome.

“While we were over there … you do get in a military mindset,” says Mahaffey, a five-year member of the team who’s now an assistant coach.

What was Robinson’s personality like in Iraq? Mahaffey was asked.

“I hesitate to say less personal, but I think we were all focused on what were doing,” he says. “But it certainly was nice to hang out with each other, having somebody (around) that you’ve known for a while.”

It was, however, difficult to stay in tip-top physical shape in the military.

“It was a struggle,” Robinson says, reminding me she worked 16-18 hours a day. “Being in Iraq, we didn’t really have time to exercise too much. Everyone has the misconception that we went over there and ran five miles a day and were in really good shape. I was probably in the worst shape I’ve been in college while I was over there.”

And, to say the least, it was challenging for Robinson to keep up with what was happening at NAU and the world around her while she was stationed in Iraq. (She did manage to find time to practice her cheers and routines “two or three times while we were in Iraq.”)

“We didn’t really get (steady) Internet access until six months in,” she says. “It would be really sporadic and the Internet would be down a lot. Towards the end, they started to have, like, cafes just full of computers.”

The 1404th returned to the U.S. in April, first to Fort Bliss and then to Show Low.

Robinson is a full-time student again and will graduate in May. She then plans to go to graduate school to study forensics psychology, possibly to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

In the meantime, she’s still serving one weekend a month in the National Guard and enjoying her time as a cheerleader, doing the drills with an almost completely new squad than the one she was a part of at NAU two years ago.

Robinson’s story wasn’t common knowledge to many of them.

“Some people didn’t know,” she says, referring to her time in Iraq. “When I would tell them, they would be like, ‘You were really over there?’ They were kind of surprised at first that a cheerleader would go to Iraq.”

Robinson did, serving her country courageously.

Now she’s back. And the former dancer/gymnast/prep track athlete is doing what she loves on Saturdays — for one more week. And she’ll never forget that.

“I appreciate the little stuff a lot more,” she says. “I don’t take as much for granted.”

The perfect description

By Ed Odeven

From time to time I enjoy repeat reads of random articles from the late David Halberstam’s “Everything They Had,” an anthology of his quality sportswriting.

Today, during coffee time, I opened the book to Halberstam’s ESPN.com piece on Pedro Martinez from Aug. 3, 2001. He described the essence of the then-Red Sox hurler with keen observations.

He wrote: “…Pedro Martinez … is, to my mind, not merely the best pitcher in baseball today, but something rarer still — a genuine artist.

“I say artist, because of the level of craftsmanship involved, the assortment of pitches, the variety of speeds, the perfection of location. Pedro Martinez is not only ahead of the hitters, he is ahead of the fans, the announcers, and most likely his own catcher.

“…Pedro is an artisan; for the true fan, watching him pitch is like getting a lesson in the infinite possibilities of the game.”

“Gordie, Gordie, Gordie!”

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Nov. 10, 2014) — Before Wayne Gretzky thrilled the masses with his out-of-this world hockey skills, Gordie Howe was “Mr. Hockey,” a beloved figure throughout Canada and beyond. Howe’s tough-guy demeanor, ability to put the puck in the net, deliver a bone-rattling check – and take a hit — and lead his team to Stanley Cup titles were all legendary exploits during his quarter century in a Detroit Red Wings sweater.

And as far back as I can remember, I recall my Uncle Jack telling hockey tales, and Howe’s name was always a part of those stories.

How couldn’t it have been?

Gordie Howe is 86 now and recovering from a recent stroke. Despite his advancing age, his ties to the current Red Wings remain as strong as ever. To this day, he likes to dish out advice to players, telling them to “shoot the puck,” Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg told The New York Times last week, adding, “If you don’t shoot, you can’t score.”

That, of course, sounds like Howe. He was always a bona fide competitior, and didn’t retire until he was in his early 50s.

As the news headlines detail Howe’s health issues, including dementia, I’m reminded of the first hockey game I attended in person, a special treat a few weeks before my 8th birthday. It was a charity event called Masters of Hockey, established by the Phil Esposito Foundation, held at Madison Square Garden in March 1982, on a Sunday. Details of game day are sketchy. I remember carrying around some souvenirs, including a game program, eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate, as well as munching on a Blimpie sub (Was that tasty sandwich scarfed down before or after the game? I can’t recall. But I remember being so excited, wanting to talk about the game to classmates the next day.)

But I do remember that Uncle Jack was happy to watch many of his older favorite players, including, as online research confirms, Esposito, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield and … Gordie Howe skate, pass the puck, take shots and attempt to relive their glory years in the NHL. Sitting beside him and I were my cousins Paul and Craig at MSG. And as the action unfolded before our eyes, and the players skated close to our section of the famous arena, Uncle Jack reminded us to chant “Gordie, Gordie, Gordie!” when he was visible. It was a chant that could’ve been shouted in the years just after World War II in Motown, but was still fun for fans to scream on this upbeat Sunday night in Manhattan.

And so we chanted “Gordie, Gordie, Gordie!” with all our might.

We weren’t the only ones.

 

 

 

Mike Tyson’s antics revisited

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in January 2002.

Tyson freak show is a never-ending debacle

By Ed Odeven

Mike Tyson amuses us, fascinates us and disgusts us. Who else in the public eye generates such attention?

He is a washed-up, over-the-hill fighter, a convicted rapist and a dirty, rotten scoundrel. Yet, if someone somewhere could legally guarantee a venue for the Brooklyn brawler to face Lennox Lewis, millions would flock to their homes and to sports bars to watch the over-priced spectacle on TV.

Let’s face it, nothing on TV is as unpredictable and spontaneous as Tyson in the ring, or out of the ring, doing his thing.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission this week wisely voted 4-1 to not issue Tyson a boxing license. Thus, he cannot fight in Nevada unless that decision is overturned. So, the lucrative, billion-dollar injection of dinero into the Las Vegas economy won’t happen.

Instead, Tyson will fight elsewhere.

Remember, high-profile boxing lost any integrity it had when Don King became the head honcho many moons ago. That means boxing’s big wigs will find a way to get another site for the fight.

Michigan and Denmark are two possibilities, since officials in both places have stated that they’d sanction the fight.

The question is: Will it actually be a fight? Who was the last legitimate pugilist Tyson actually fought?

Cheap-shot antics have become the norm, not an isolated incident for “Iron Mike.” Ever since his infamous ear-biting incidents against Evander Holyfield in 1997, Tyson hasn’t attempted to “use” his boxing skills — that’s, of course, assuming he has any left. He’s repeatedly resorted to thuggish tactics that are downright dangerous, such as attempting to break Francois Botha’s arm after the end of Round 1 in a 1999 fight. Later in the fight, Tyson tried to bash Botha in the head with his elbow.

In the fall of 1998, I attended one of Tyson’s training sessions at the Madison Square Garden Boxing Gymnasium in Phoenix. The afternoon event was a chance for the media to observe Tyson interacting with the community.

Eager fans lined up for blocks to get his autograph and get their picture taken with the former champ. He playfully nibbled on the back of a little kid’s shirt and comically made it look like he was going to bite the kid’s ear in a photograph that later graced the inside of Sports Illustrated.

Tyson was both courteous and downright obnoxious in his dealings with the press that day. At first he said no questions would be answered. Then he went into a spontaneous spiel about how he’d fight a lion anytime, anyplace.

Perhaps Tyson relishes being cast as the bad guy. After all, he says things that make people scratch their heads and wonder if it’s being said just for shock value, or if he really means what he’s saying.

Such as… “I’m going to eat your children,” a memorable threat he once made to Lewis.

Last week’s press conference-turned-melee in NYC did nothing to enhance Tyson’s reputation. After that chaos, Lewis said Tyson bit him in the thigh during their non-scripted physical encounter.

It appears as though Tyson has no respect for Lewis.

“I think Lennox is a coward,” he said. “I’m going to fight him any time I see him in the streets.”

Yeah, I’m sure Lewis traverses from town to town looking for Tyson.

“I’m beyond good and evil,” he was quoted as saying in a 1999 Las Vegas Sun article. “I’m beyond right and wrong. I don’t live by anybody’s rules.”

And finally, this gem of a quote from a few days ago.

“I’m no Mother Teresa,” he said at the hearing earlier this week. “I’m not Charles Manson either. Just treat me equal.”

Equal to whom?

 

Column flashback – Michael Jordan joins Wizards

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in September 2001.

Wizards plus Jordan still doesn’t equal playoffs

By Ed Odeven

OK, you can stop holding your breath. His Airness will play for the Washington Wizards this season.

That’s right. It’s official. Michael Jordan has announced he will play for the Eastern Conference’s most pathetic team. Wait a minute, haven’t the New Jersey Nets held exclusive rights to that title for years? That’s a debate that could go on and on until Pascual Coco becomes a household name or until Chris Berman runs out of nicknames.

After getting rid of underachieving malcontents Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Mitch Richmond, the Wizards have gone from pathetic to awful. They are certainly the laughingstock of Washington, D.C., — and remember, there’s normally plenty to mock in a city of perennial political-related scandals.

Even the Los Angeles Clippers have shown signs of improvement over the past few seasons.

Just what will MJ’s Second Comeback Tour mean for basketball? Surely, there will be a dramatic rise in the sale of Wizards memorabilia. (Last time I checked, there were 14 people west of Hagerstown, Md. with Wizards jersey).

Nostalgic banter will clog the airwaves and give sports scribes something to write about. The big question will be: Has MJ lost a step?

The NBA will have to revamp its television schedule to please commish David Stern. Wizards games will be shown constantly, certainly irritating the usually spoiled L.A. Laker lovers.

In short, basketball fans will get the privilege to watch Jordan and a bunch of nobodies do nothing.

That’s right. A 38-year-old shooting guard might be able to score 30 points a game, but can he effectively defend quicker guards on a consistent basis. I doubt it.

Jordan’s new teammates are not exactly a collection of stellar role players like the Bulls had in Chicago for his final few seasons. None of the Wizards has the defensive presence of Dennis Rodman or Scottie Pippen. Nobody on the Wizards has the veteran savvy and clutch shooting ability of Steve Kerr. Nobody on the Wizards is a proven winner save one legendary superstar.

The Wizards’ roster currently consists of Courtney Alexander, Kwame Brown, Hubert Davis, Richard Hamilton, Brendan Haywood, Popeye Jones, Christian Laettner, Tyronn Lue, Tyrone Nesby, Bobby Simmons, Mike Smith, Etan Thomas, David Vanterpool, Loy Vaught, Jahidi White and Chris Whitney.

The roster features a couple of solid players (Alexander and Hamilton), promising rookies (Brown, Haywood and Thomas) and a bunch of players no other team wants.

Jordan says he’s going to play strictly “for the love of the game.” It’s an admirable reason. But isn’t it better to go out on top? Jordan’s last shot clinched the Bulls’ sixth NBA championship — a storybook finish to a magical career.

It’s going to take a miracle for the Wizards to even contend for the Atlantic Division title. Even with Jordan, there’s hardly a rational thinker who believes the Wizards will be better than the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat or Philadelphia 76ers. The Wizards won 19 last season. The Knicks lost 11 home games all season; Allen Iverson’s hustle and dominance is worthy of least 20 wins a year to Philly.

The best-case scenario? The Wizards go 41-41 and get swept in the first round of the playoffs. The worst-case scenario? Is that really necessary? The Wizards haven’t been respectable since underrated scoring machine Bernard King hobbled down the court with two bad knees in the early 1990s.