Little Davidson changed forever after Wildcats’ magical run, BKC

DAVIDSON, N.C. (AP) _ Walk into Bob McKillop’s office and among the first things you’ll see are the old issues of Sports Illustrated chronicling Lefty Driesell’s dominant Davidson teams of the 1960s.

When McKillop returned to his office Monday morning, it hit him that he’ll need to make space for the publications telling the story of this season’s remarkable Wildcats.

“Now we’ve got our own (magazine) issues,” McKillop said. “As Lefty Driesell established a bar for us 40 years ago, we now will go down as the team that set a new bar.”

McKillop was bleary-eyed but upbeat Monday, less than 24 hours after 10th-seeded Davidson’s storybook run ended a missed 3-pointer away from the Final Four. The team returned to this town of 9,000 people after Sunday’s heartbreaking 59-57 loss to Kansas at 3:30 a.m. — only to be greeted by about 300 people.

“It’s corny to talk about sports and love,” McKillop said. “But this is a love affair.”

All over town there were signs thanking the team that won 25 consecutive games and captured the hearts of this community with upset wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament.

“Be Proud” proclaimed a sign in front of the town library. The window of the bank on Main Street had the message, “Thanks Cats.”

“I’m definitely proud of our team,” star guard Stephen Curry said. “We made history for our school.”

It was a drizzly, unseasonably cool day Monday as the bundled-up students and residents were trying to figure out what it all means. Long in the shadow of its Atlantic Coast Conference neighbors, Davidson, which hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game in 39 years, suddenly is a household name.

“There will be people here at Davidson that 20 years from now will think about this run,” McKillop said.

Davidson, a liberal arts school of 1,700 students, was so close to spoiling the party of heavyweights at the Final Four.

Behind the sweet-shooting Curry, who averaged 32 points in four NCAA tournament games, Davidson (29-7) trailed mighty Kansas by two with 16 seconds left. McKillop decided to have Curry, not point guard Jason Richards, bring the ball up the court.

A day later, McKillop still felt he made the right decision.

“We wanted Steph Curry to take that shot and that’s why we put the ball in his hands,” McKillop said. “Because we felt they would have kept him from the ball, almost double teaming him, and said, ‘OK, let their bigs shoot a 2-pointer rather than let Steph Curry beat us with a 3.’ And we were going for the win.”

The play got bottled up near the top of the key. Curry couldn’t get a look at the basket. He flipped it to Richards, who missed a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer.

McKillop stopped in mid-sentence Monday and watched a replay of the last shot on his office TV in silence. But McKillop insists the gut-wrenching end won’t dampen this magical season.

“For our players to have this experience and for us to reach this level on a national stage, there is no greater joy for a coach,” McKillop said.

McKillop already was trying to cash in on the wave of publicity the Southern Conference school has received in the past two weeks. Dressed in a red tie, he was set to hit the recruiting trail later Monday, with new possibilities.

“A year ago, a top recruit is being recruited by Davidson and an ACC power,” McKillop said. “He really likes Davidson. He really likes his opportunity there. He really likes the coaches. He really likes the players. But he can’t walk down the hall at his high school and say, ‘I chose Davidson over ACC power.’ He can’t pick up the newspaper that says, ‘Blank chose Davidson.’

“Now people will understand why he will choose Davidson.”

Will the 57-year-old McKillop continue to pick Davidson? Already McKillop, a native New Yorker who has spent 19 seasons here, is being mentioned for other coaching openings. Driesell left for Maryland after Davidson’s buzzer-beating loss to North Carolina in the 1969 regional final.

“Of course my name is being bandied about here and there,” McKillop said. “I don’t dwell on the corporate ladder. Bigger isn’t better. I want my staff to be in a situation where they feel very good about the way they are being treated and their compensation. That to me is vitally important. I have too many other things on my mind right now.”

That includes finding replacements for Richards and fellow seniors Thomas Sander and Boris Meno. Curry, who set an NCAA Division I record with 160 3-pointers, likely will move to point guard next season.

With Curry and the emergence of forward Andrew Lovedale, Davidson will enter the 2008-09 season with as much hype and publicity as Driesell’s teams had 40 years ago.

“It’s starting to sink in that this was an incredible journey,” McKillop said. “We had a mission that began 12 months ago and we invested ourselves completely in that mission. The joy that we now are going to experience in the aftermath, despite the loss, is going to be a joy that’s even more special, because so many have shared in it.”