Game On for JamesOn
The scouting report on Curry is that he can play both guard positions, likes to penetrate and pull up for mid-range jump shots, has a solid stroke from 3-point range and looks to create shots for his teammates.
Posted November 13, 2007 | By Conrad Theodore
Watching television isn’t normally a contact sport.
But, late one evening this past June, while innocently sitting on a sofa at a friend’s home viewing ESPN, JamesOn Curry was suddenly mobbed.
"When my name got called, five or six people jumped on me,” smiles Curry. “I was so happy.” The reason for the elation meant his childhood dream of playing in the NBA had officially come true.
It took a bit of patience, but Curry, along with his parents, Connie and Leon, had to travel to a friend’s house to watch the draft proceedings because they don’t receive ESPN at their North Carolina home.
As round one of the NBA Draft dissolved into round two, and thirty-something players selected turned into forty-something, the atmosphere became a bit tense. Perhaps the calmest person in the room was JamesOn himself.
“He just kept saying, ‘It’s alright. Someone is going to take me, someone is going to take me,’” recalls his mother, Connie. That somebody turned out to be the Chicago Bulls, selecting Curry with the 51st overall pick. “I about hit my head on the ceiling,” said his elated father, Leon. “Then we just rushed onto him.”
JamesOn Curry may only be twenty-one years old, but, according to his parents, he already has more than nineteen years of basketball experience. When JamesOn (the name combines those of his Great Uncle James and his father Leon) was almost two, his father used to take him along to his adult basketball league, since JamesOn’s mom worked the night shift. The game would often have to be paused because young JamesOn would dribble his way onto the court.
When he was finally old enough to play organized ball, Curry was put on a peewee team along with other first-time boys that nobody wanted. If the team scored 24 points, Curry would have 20 or 22 of them. They became runners-up his first year. “The next year, everybody wanted JamesOn,” says Connie. “But his father encouraged him and his teammates to stay together, and recruited me to help him coach the team.”
There was no free pass for JamesOn being the coach’s son. If anything, his dad practiced the tough love approach. “JamesOn would ride to practice or a game with his father, but he never rode back with him,” laughs Connie of the memory. “We called Leon mean, but, looking back, he was just making sure JamesOn was learning the game the right way.”
Curry averaged 17.3 points and 3.7 assists per game as a junior at Oklahoma State, earning numerous All-Big 12 honors.
By the time high school came for Curry, every opponent had nothing but respect for him. He was quickly making a name for himself, averaging an astounding 40 points a game, including a couple of superhuman 65 pointers.
“Because of our work schedules, we would sometimes get to the game late, and we couldn’t even see him play because it was a sellout,” says Connie.
When the team traveled, opposing fans would often chant, “Overrated,” at Curry, but that just added fuel to the fire. “Other schools may have accused him of being a ball hog,” explains his father. “But JamesOn is also the all-time assist leader at his school.”
Curry was living the dream. The two-time North Carolina Mr. Basketball, who holds the record for most points in North Carolina high school history, even received the fantasy of every basketball-loving kid growing up near Tobacco Road—a full athletic scholarship to the University of North Carolina.
“It was a dream to play for the Tar Heels,” says Curry. “Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins … I could name every pro from N.C.”
Then suddenly one February night in his senior year, everything changed. Just hours after scoring 47 points against his latest victim, Curry was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer. His guilty plea placed him on three years’ probation and he was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service (which he has completed). But the greatest punishment came when Tar Heels coach Roy Williams immediately revoked the scholarship he had offered.
“Devastated” would be putting it mildly. The kid who had everything going for him had self-destructed. “After the arrest and the loss of his scholarship, JamesOn wouldn’t go anywhere,” remembers his mother. “He wouldn’t even pick up a basketball. He was so down.”
His parents now had to begin their most challenging coaching and convince their son that his mistake was not the end of the world. They tried desperately to get into his head that a new opportunity would prevail.
JamesOn got that second chance a month later when Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton offered him a scholarship.
“Many big schools wanted him (before the arrest),” explains his father. “I was a big North Carolina State fan but when JamesOn was recruited by North Carolina, I said, ‘that’s my team now.’ But now I’m a big Oklahoma State fan.”
Beside’s having an innate ability to fill it up from the outside, Curry’s also a very capable ballhandler who’ll look to create shots for his teammates.
(Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)
All Curry could do was sit on his friend’s sofa surrounded by family and friends and hope to hear his name. When the Chicago Bulls drafted Aaron Gray at number 49, Curry’s OSU coach sent him a “hang in there” text message.
Two spots later, a flood of congratulatory text messages came in from teammates and friends throughout the country when his name was officially called. His game and the Bulls’ faith in his character came shining through. JamesOn Curry was an official selection in the NBA Draft.
“Curry had his issues, I had mine,” says Bulls Coach Scott Skiles. Skiles himself was arrested three times in his final two years at Michigan State. “I understand that young kids make mistakes. You hope they’re not habitual. I think people deserve second chances, and he’s a heck of a talent and definitely deserves a look.”
Because of the blemish on his resume, many believe that Curry may be a steal as the 51st pick of the Draft. “He has a very high skill level and was undervalued,” says Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson. “For a talent like that, we have some expectations for him. I think he’s going to be a very good player.”
But Paxson has always striven to load his roster with good citizens. Was Curry’s past simply a non-issue? “It’s not a non-issue,” Paxson insists. “We brought JamesOn in here and asked him directly about it. He acknowledged he made a mistake, and I felt he was honest with us. He knows what he’s up against. Every time he does an interview [the arrest] always seems to come up. I’m hoping he has a lot to prove.”
As Paxson predicted, as soon as Curry arrived in Chicago for his first press conference, he was flooded with questions about the incident. But instead of growing impatient, Curry politely answered every reporter in his Southern gentlemanly way. “Yes, sir, that’s a mistake I made that I have to live with. No sir, I don’t anticipate any problems here.”
What the Bulls hope is that he’ll cause havoc for other teams in the league with his long-range shooting skills to help spread the court. “We haven’t had a lot of second-round picks in the last few years, and we feel like we got two guys (49th pick Aaron Gray and Curry) that we can bring along and develop,” says Paxson.
Working hard is not something new for JamesOn Curry, who was born and reared in rural North Carolina on a tobacco farm. “Blue collar, that’s me,” says Curry. “This team is loaded with blue-collar workers. That’s why I feel I fit. One of the reasons the Bulls wanted me was that I fit their style. The fact they draw-and-kick and push the ball and play tough defense, it’s a beautiful place for me to be.”
Ironically, Curry was working with bulls in the wee morning hours following the Draft. “Even though I was up late, I loaded up cows with my friends and went to the auction stockyards,” says Curry. “I was around bulls all day. Isn’t that funny? You know I’m a country boy at heart.”
"The fact [the Bulls] draw-and-kick and push the ball and play tough defense, it’s a beautiful place for me to be,” said Curry.
Although Paxson has hinted that Curry already has a definite spot on the roster, the rookie guard knows his blue-collar ethic has to be at an all-time high. “In the second-round, nothing is guaranteed. [Paxson] said I better get in good shape. I’ve got two-a-days coming up.”
The scouting report on Curry is that he can play both guard positions, likes to penetrate and pull up for mid-range jump shots, has a solid stroke from 3-point range and looks to create shots for his teammates. But right now Curry’s concentration is on creating his own opportunity to earn playing time and live his lifelong dream.
His father, Leon, who himself got a special present because Draft night landed on his birthday, believes big things are going to happen for his son. “I can’t wait to see how he plays at this level. I know he’s better than some people think.”
So, now that his son and favorite former player is in the big show, the inevitable question is whether ESPN will find its way into the Curry’s North Carolina home? “I hope to do much better than that,” Leon Curry laughs. “I hope to see him in a lot at the United Center.”
Just like JamesOn Curry’s high school playing days, with expectations high for the Bulls this season, the seats are expected to fill up fast at the basketball palace on Chicago’s West Madison Street. Let’s hope that Leon and Connie Curry don’t every again arrive too late to see their son light up the house.