Marksman Curry sets his sights on the NBA
"I feel like sometimes I’m overlooked because I shoot the ball so well, but I can also jump and run pretty well too,” said Curry.
Posted July 12, 2007 | By Adam Fluck
If there’s one thing Bulls rookie JamesOn Curry knows, it’s how to put the ball in the basket.
His résumé doesn’t lie. At the young age of five and playing in his first game, he accounted for 26 of his team’s 28 points. Over a decade later, while attending Eastern Alamance High School in North Carolina, he set the state’s all-time high school scoring record with 3,307 points. As a senior, he averaged 40.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
The kid who had grown up working long hours on a tobacco farm had a bright future ahead of him. But trouble was on the horizon. Curry was a blue-chip prospect heading to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels when he was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer posing as a fellow high school student. He pled guilty, was placed on probation and performed 200 hours of community service. But that didn’t mean his playing days were over.
Eddie Sutton, one of the game’s coaching greats and a big believer in second chances, invited him to play at Oklahoma State. Curry’s numbers improved each year, and he averaged 17.3 points per game in his final collegiate season as a junior. He led his team in assists with 131 and was also the Cowboys’ most prolific long-range shooter, connecting on 88-of-214 shots from beyond the three-point arc. Curry was named to the All-Big 12 team and was a finalist for the Naismith Trophy.
After being selected by GM John Paxson and the Bulls with the 51st overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft, Curry is ready to begin a new chapter in his life. Bulls.com met with Curry just before he left for summer league competition in Orlando to talk about his past, how his collegiate career prepared him for the next level, and how he thinks he’ll adjust to the NBA.
Bulls.com: Not long after Chicago selected you with the 51st pick, John Paxson called the Bulls’ interest in you the worst-kept secret in the draft. Did you have a pretty good idea you might end up here?
JamesOn Curry: “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know. I just kept faith in God and he’s the reason I’m here. Whether I was going to come here to Chicago or anywhere else, I knew I’d be going to a good place. He leads you to a lot of places, but he never leads you to fail. I knew wherever I’d end up, I’d be in good hands. I feel very lucky and fortunate to be in Chicago.”
Bulls.com: Has faith always been an important part of your life?
(Adam Fluck/Chicago Bulls)
Curry: “I’ve always believed in God, but my grandparents and my preacher—who’s actually from Chicago—helped me a lot over the course of my life. I’m a strong individual and I don’t just buy into things right away. I had to see what the faith was all about and learn along the way.”
Bulls.com: You’ve got a very unique and interesting background having grown up on a tobacco farm in Pleasant Grove, N.C. What was that experience like and how did it mold you as a person?
Curry: “Back in the summer time, I’d wake up by 6:00 or 6:15 every morning. My Grandma would have biscuits for us and then I’d ride around with my Granddaddy and we’d pick up the help. We’d be working before the sun came out and work until noon, sometimes later. I’d go home, take a shower, and go play ball. Sometimes we’d work as late as 5:00 and I’d be there all day. My Grandmother is still well off—she’s got a lot of acres of land—but it didn’t come all at once. It’s been more of a product of longevity and hard work. It’s a big family, but we’re very tight knit; so many of us grew up around the farm.”
Bulls.com: Being a self-described “country boy,” how do you think you’ll adjust to living in Chicago?
Curry: “I’m excited about it. I don’t want people to have the mindset where they think all I grew up around was tractors, driving them since I was five, and that’s all I’m about. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity where I came from. There was a lot of trouble that you had to keep away from. Moving into a situation like this is a blessing and I am ready to embrace it.”
Bulls.com: How did you feel your visit with John Paxson and Scott Skiles before the draft went?
Curry: “I really enjoyed it. We talked about a lot of things, but the biggest thing to me is that they weren’t interested in JamesOn the player. They know what I can bring to the table already. They were interested in JamesOn the person. To come in here and talk to everyone from Gar Forman, the head scout, to John Paxson, the general manager, let me know that they’re stand up guys who work in a close knit environment. Of course they asked questions about my past, but they didn’t ridicule me. They had to ask me. I gave them honest answers and told them I made a mistake. I could tell you twenty things that were wrong about that situation, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not going to change the past. I’ve never been a bad person, and I think that’s why I was ultimately able to be in this position that I am now.”
Bulls.com: Your troubles in high school have been well documented, but Coach Skiles stated he understands as well as anyone that people deserve a second chance. Is having someone like that believing in you important?
Curry: “Definitely. If you know a lot about the Christian religion, Jesus Christ was ridiculed and beat and called a liar. Who am I? I’m no one compared to Jesus. I can’t worry about how people who don’t know me perceive me. I’m glad Coach Skiles has given me this opportunity and believes in me. The Bulls are giving me an amazing opportunity and I hope to make the most of it.”
Bulls.com: How did you decide on attending Oklahoma State?
(Courtesy of Oklahoma State University)
Curry: “The night I went to court, we got a call from [North Carolina head coach] Roy Williams saying my scholarship was gone. A cousin of mine who knows Tracy McGrady—a guy I first met back in the fifth grade—knew an agent and they helped me out a lot in making calls to different schools and seeing who might be interested. I had a few options, but I liked Oklahoma State because of its rural setting and close knit community.”
Bulls.com: What kind of relationship did you have with your college coach, the legendary Eddie Sutton?
Curry: “He and Coach Skiles have a lot of similar qualities. They’re tough nosed, up in your jock kind of guys. I’m the type of player that responds well to that. I don’t want someone always patting me on the back; you need to be told the truth. With Coach Sutton, I heard it a lot of different ways, but that was fine with me. He’s an old school kind of guy, and history tends to repeat itself. Basketball could go back to the way it was once played, and that might be a blessing for the game. I just think it’s a great opportunity to be in a controlled environment like that—everybody has to follow the rules and be accountable.”
Bulls.com: In one of last season’s best college games of the year, you scored 28 points as Oklahoma State outdueled Kevin Durant’s Texas squad in triple overtime. What was that contest like to be a part of?
Curry: “It’ was pure heart. That was a long game, and it was all heart. Of course we had our sixth man on our side with the fans at Gallagher Arena and that helped. It was my first time playing against Durant, and he proved he’s a great player. Whether he knows it or not, he gave me a great opportunity by being a great player and bringing all those NBA scouts to the game. They got to see me play too. I tried to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Bulls.com: How did playing in the Big 12 prepare you for the next level?
Curry: “It’s a very physical league. I feel like the last two years I was one of the main focuses of our team when they came into play Oklahoma State and that kind of challenge made me better. Playing for coaches who stressed defensive principles and all the little things helped me too. Learning how to be a better offensive rebounder, for example, put me in a position to get where I’m at today. I feel like with all my work back on the farm that I’ve been lifting weights all my life, and obviously you’ve got to be strong to be ready for the NBA.”
Bulls.com: What aspects of your game do you feel you need to improve the most?
Curry: “I want to get better in every way that I can. I want to shoot better, I want to pass better, rebound better, handle the ball better and defend better. There isn’t one aspect in the game of basketball where I can’t get better. Until I reach the point where I stop caring about improving or don’t want to work anymore because I’m so perfect, I’m going to keep at it. But even if I was to become the best player in the NBA, there would still be things that I could work on. You always want to be as complete and versatile player as possible. I feel like sometimes I’m overlooked because I shoot the ball so well, but I can also jump and run pretty well too.”
Bulls.com: Do you think you’re big enough to play the shooting guard position in the NBA? Is filling in at the point an option?
(Adam Fluck/Chicago Bulls)
Curry: “Offensively, I’m very confident in my game and feel I can play both the one and the two. Guarding a guy like Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade and some of the other great shooting guards in the league is where it will really be tough. That’s where I need to get stronger and quicker. Those big guards are hard to keep up with on the defensive end, and that’s where I really, really need to place my emphasis. But, hey, those guys have got to guard and play defense too.”
Bulls.com: Have you thought much about what role you might play with the Bulls?
Curry: “I actually asked Coach Skiles that because I wanted to see what he thought my role would be. He said that you really can’t tell roles this early and we’ll have to get closer to the season to see how guys are playing and what’s going on. I’ve matured a lot in the past few years and I have a better understanding than ever about the game. When I first got to college, I had no idea how fast it was, but I adjusted. I think the NBA will be like that too, so once I get the speed of it down, I’ll be OK. I’ll work on understanding when and where I can fit in and find my groove.”
Bulls.com: Do you have any expectations for what your rookie season might hold? Have you thought about any personal goals yet?
Curry: “Everything has happened so quickly that I haven’t really had a chance to think about it. I talked to Tyrus Thomas the other day, and he said your first year goes by really fast. I know it’s a much longer season than college, but I’m OK with that. I love playing basketball all year long. I want to be in this game for years and years—I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. I want to make my mark in the game of basketball and hopefully this is just the beginning.”