Ten years ago, the "academically renowned, small, residential liberal arts college 19 miles north of Charlotte" found itself in the national spotlight as the Wildcats out-shot opponents all the way to the Elite Eight.
Davidson–that's in North Carolina, reporters were quick to note for the unfamiliar. Everyone, from prospective students to prospective employers, sat up and took note. "Hoops and books" became a central feature of Big Dance coverage, which highlighted the college's academic rigor and its culture of honor, leadership and service, as well as the fact that 25 percent of the student body participates in a Division I varsity sport.
That 2008 moment also was a lot of fun.
The town got gowned in a fresh toga party of spray-painted bedsheet signs every time the Wildcats busted their way through another level of the bracket. Gonzaga: Wait, what? Georgetown: Midnight parade on Main Street! Wisconsin: Trustees bus students to Detroit. Kansas: Was "OMG" even a thing then?
Watch parties sprang up around the world.
"I was completely caught off guard by how proud alumni were," said Peter Wagner '92, then alumni relations director. "Everything they loved about Davidson manifested through that team in that moment."
Call it team spirit, pride, maybe even grace–certainly grace on more than one of Stephen Curry's three-pointers. The larger story on display was about the character of the place as well as its characters. It was about what Curry himself was getting at in a recent Sporting News quote about Coach Bob McKillop: "He talked about building the man on and off the court and helping me reach my full potential."
That's the story of every Davidson student. The team-first culture and work ethic of McKillop's team reflected the larger community of people undergirding the institution. Still does.
The 2008 NCCA tournament run touched a lot of lives at Davidson and beyond–here are some personal recollections of that time to mark the 10th anniversary:
"I really thought Davidson was done in its second-round NCAA tournament game against Georgetown.
Sitting in Raleigh and covering the tournament for the Charlotte Observer, I saw Davidson fall behind 46-29 early in the second half. Georgetown had a 7-foot-2 center named Roy Hibbert–a future NBA all-star–who was dominating the game. And then Steph Curry rose to another level.
I still believe it was this game more than any other that pushed him into a national spotlight that he has never really left in the 10 years since. Steph only had five points with 15 minutes to go.
He ended up with 30–scoring 25 in those last 15 minutes as the crowd roared in disbelief and exultation–and Davidson pulled off the upset. I remember finding Steph's parents, Dell and Sonya, in the crowd after the game. They were as stunned as everyone else.
Said Sonya, still having a hard time believing it a few moments after the game ended: 'What just happened? Could somebody figure it out and tell us Davidson people?'"
–Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer sports columnist
"Our president, Tom Ross. Live TV. CBS This Morning. The host asks him to take a shot at the hoop set up in the Union. I hand him the ball. He looks at it. Skyhooks a nothing-but-net three pointer on live TV."
–Jim Nash, technical director, sound wizard, and originator of the "mini-living-rooms" approach to Union tourney viewing that year
"I was at the Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin games during the Elite Eight run. Wish I could have made it to the Kansas game. And I would tell myself to bet a lot of money on Steph Curry winning back-to-back NBA MVPs."
–Rusty Reigel '18, Wildcats guard
"I was living and working in Florida but made sure to be in Raleigh that first weekend. After the Georgetown game, which was on a Sunday, of course, I was supposed to get on I-40 East, jog over to I-95, and then head south. And I just... couldn't. I turned the wheel and merged onto I-40 going the other way. I called the Davidson Village Inn. They had one room left."
–Michael Kruse '00, senior writer at Politico
"My only connection to Davidson is a mental and spiritual one to Steph Curry. I remember Davidson's Elite Eight run, but I didn't appreciate what he did until a couple of years after that. I appreciate his perseverance and his dedication to his craft and making himself a champion when nobody really gave him a chance. And he's just a solid human being. This is a guy who deserves respect."
–Michael Sherman, M.D., Ph.D., aka That Guy at Midcourt in a Wildcats 30 Jersey at Every Golden State Warriors games
“Writing 101 is pretty relentless, and I’m notoriously stingy with grades; so I was amazed (and renewed in my faith in Davidson coaches) to see that no one steered him away from my section.... And, naturally, I teased Steph mercilessly in class and out. He was unfailingly polite and in my opinion always gave me more respect than I deserved.... Stephen Curry was very smart. In fact, if the basketball thing doesn’t work out for him, I think he might have a decent career as a writer.”
–Randy Nelson, Virginia Lasater Irvin Professor of English
"I was at the Ohio high school state playoffs with my family [during the Elite 8 game]. And I would tell myself to enjoy your childhood and have fun every time you step on the court."
–Peyton Aldridge '18, Wildcats forward
"I remember staying at a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, during our Sweet 16/Elite Eight games. The night before our Kansas game I walked down the hall to our mangers' room to get some drinks and snacks. I walked past (Wildcats Guard) Can Civi '09 in the hall taking an econometrics test. For those that don't know, Mark Foley's econometrics class is one of the hardest classes at Davidson. And here Can Civi is, the night before the biggest game of our lives, working on an exam. I walked past him a second time and thought to myself, "I wonder what the Kansas players are doing right now." It's what makes Davidson, Davidson: the simple fact that we are as dedicated to the classroom as the court, and no matter what else we had on our plate, we would honor those commitments."
–Bryant Barr '10, Wildcats guard
"One memory that really stands out from that time is how almost every story that you, I, or almost anyone else would have wanted to tell about Davidson–the quality of life, the quality of people, the Honor Code–was told day after day in the national media outlets. At first the story seemed to be about Steph and the basketball team, but once people started coming to campus to shoot segments and do interviews, they realized that the real story was something much different, much bigger and much better."
–Peter Wagner '92, Davidson alumni relations director 2006-11
"The basketball team always drank milk and water, not a lot of soda. Steph was a milk man. They ate a lot of turkey burgers, and would go through the "du jour" line and pick the healthiest food. They used to call and say they were on their way, because Coach kept them a little late. And there was the "I Love Commons" video...."
–Vail Commons cook Amy Johnson and server Patty Sigmon