Stephen Curry has a very difficult decision to make in the next week: stay at Davidson for his senior year or declare for the NBA draft and enjoy all the rewards that come with being a lock lottery selection and a 21-year-old NBA rookie.
I always have felt that a college player whose stock is lottery-pick high and who is physically and mentally ready should take the money and run to the league.
In many ways, Curry is ready for the next step in his career. He already is one of college basketball's most prolific scorers ever at 2,635 points and counting, and there are not 15 better pure shooters in the NBA right now. In addition, he has physically matured over three seasons (although he definitely can get stronger), and given his NBA pedigree, he might be as prepared for the jump as anyone in the draft this side of Blake Griffin.
So, what should Curry do? I think he should stay at Davidson for his senior year.
First of all, Curry has the unique opportunity to build a legacy very few college players in the history of the game could ever achieve. Were he to stay, by the time his career at Davidson was over, he likely would be the NCAA's second-leading scorer of all time, behind only the legendary "Pistol" Pete Maravich. And as inconceivable as it sounds, he could make a run at the all-time record of 3,667 points by averaging 29.5 points per game over 35 games. It's not beyond his reach.
Curry already is a rock star and ubiquitous in college basketball circles. In fact, after a brilliant sophomore season that included an incredible NCAA tournament performance that led to Davidson's Elite Eight run, CBS and ESPN turned him into a national celebrity, and Curry made himself a walking billboard for one of the great private liberal arts institutions in the country.
If he stays for his senior year, Curry will be college basketball's most recognizable player to start the season and a favorite for the numerous national player of the year awards that are handed out. He also will almost certainly earn even more All-America honors. These are things few could have imagined four years ago when he was a scrawny 5-foot-11 junior at Charlotte Christian -- and things one cannot put a price tag on.
Secondly, while this should be a historically weak draft, it also is guard heavy, and Curry's status will be at the whim of NBA teams deciding from among him, James Harden (Arizona State), Patty Mills (Saint Mary's), Tyreke Evans (Memphis), Ricky Rubio (Spain), Gerald Henderson (Duke), Brandon Jennings (Italy), Ty Lawson (North Carolina), Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) and Eric Maynor (VCU).
Next year's NBA draft, like this year's, will lack the depth of star-quality freshmen like Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant. Barring an injury, Curry's stock will remain high and could go up next year, especially if his game continues to improve and evolve.
In fact, the beauty of Curry is that as prolific a scorer as he has been, he still can get better. He can get stronger and become a better defender and decision-maker. He plays for a coach, Bob McKillop, who has given him the green light over three years not just to shoot any time he wants, but also to grow as a complete offensive player. It's hard to imagine that, as cerebral a player as Curry is, his game won't continue to improve.
In addition to his great shooting range and quick release, Curry proved to have great court vision and passing acumen in averaging about six assists a game this past season. And as the team's primarily ball handler, he had to constantly factor in whether a tough, contested shot he took was a higher percentage play than passing to open but less talented teammates. It might be nit-picking, but he did turn the ball over 126 times this past season. He will be better prepared to handle the ball this next season and grow as a multidimensional player.
Curry's teammates should be better prepared for his play-making and passing as well. Coming off what McKillop jokingly told me recently was a down season (only 27 wins!), the Wildcats would return five of their top seven players (with Curry) and would bring in one of Davidson's best recruiting classes. The hope is that 6-foot-9 sophomore Frank Ben-Eze, who was a highly coveted recruit a year ago, recovers from offseason knee surgery after an injury in the Southern Conference tournament.
In addition, the SoCon tourney has just been moved to Charlotte for 2010, I assume in anticipation of the huge draw Curry and his Davidson teammates could be. So the deck is stacked for Curry to make more history in the postseason next year if he stays.
So far, Curry has resisted the opportunity to play in the NBA in order (in my opinion) to be a better player when he gets there. The financial pull and the pressure from family and friends that often factor into the decisions of many college stars aren't there for him. He has a unique family support system that includes his father, Dell, who spent 16 years as a player in the NBA.
When Curry does get to the league, he'll find out what his dad and others have told him all along. The innocence of Davidson basketball will be over, and his business career as a professional player in a cold, harsh world will begin. There will be no more "D-Block," the crazy student section screaming for him at Wildcats home games. Gone will be the solitude of a student on a campus with 1,700 fellow students who treat him like the guy who goes to soccer games and helps with freshman orientation.
The NBA, while in many ways a glamorous life and the dream of young college stars, will be about the bottom line: winning and losing. If you can help a team win, you play. If you can't, you don't. The amount of games Curry plays as a rookie, if he plays, will feel like four college seasons. And his college roommates and best friends will give way to room service at 3 a.m. in Minneapolis.
Look, Curry is going to the NBA -- whether it's this year or the next. But just in the past week or two, we've already seen five almost-surefire lottery picks say no to this year's draft (Ed Davis, Greg Monroe, Willie Warren, Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich).
It's selfish of me to say this, but I -- along with countless other college basketball fans -- would love for there to be one more addition to that list.
Fran Fraschilla, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.