- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

It’s a tough time of year for college basketball coaches, especially those excluded from the NCAA tournament. Stephen Curry, son of Virginia Tech hoops legend Dell Curry, shoots Davidson past Georgetown — and into the Sweet 16 — and Hokies fans wonder: “Why didn’t we give that kid a scholarship?” Joe Alexander, pride of Frederick’s Linganore High School, helps West Virginia knock off another 2-seed, Duke, and Maryland followers muse: “Boy, he sure would have looked good in a Terps uniform.”

Such is the agony that accompanies the ecstasy of the NCAAs. The tournament, after all, is always full of surprises — surprise teams like Davidson and West Virginia and surprise players like Curry and Alexander, neither of whom was romanced heavily by college recruiters.

Not that they should have been. Curry was a 5-foot-11 swizzle stick as a high school senior at Charlotte Christian, not the sturdier 6-3 he is today. Alexander, meanwhile, was an equally underwhelming 6-6, 185 — and was hardly envisioned as the powerful 6-8 post-up player he has become under Bob Huggins.

But that’s the thing about these poor college coaches. In addition to being experts in the X’s and O’s department— and motivators on a par with Tony Robbins — they’re expected to be clairvoyants. They’re supposed to be able to identify late bloomers before the first leaf has sprouted. And really, who, this side of Nostradamus, is good at that kind of guesswork?

Still, Seth Greenberg feels obliged to explain himself. It isn’t enough that his Tech team (9-7 in the ACC and a near upset winner over North Carolina in the tourney semifinals) got passed over for an NCAA bid in favor of Arizona (8-10 in the Pac-10). Now he has to defend his failure to sign Curry, who lit up Gonzaga for 40 points in the first round and G-town for 30 in the second.

In his March 24 entry on the Hokies’ Web site, Greenberg wrote: “To end the speculation on his recruitment, here is the real story. … [By] the summer of Stephen’s junior year, Nigel Munson had already committed, Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon were going into their senior years and A.D. Vassallo was a rising sophomore. I felt Stephen was a very good prospect but thought he should redshirt. At the time, he was about [6] feet tall and weighed only 150 pounds. We were going to play Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell 32-plus minutes a game, and I didn’t think he should waste a year. [So] I offered him a walk-on for a year and then a four-year scholarship.”

Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, Curry didn’t want to wait and decided to go Davidson, where he has developed into an Austin Carr-type pure shooter. All Greenberg can do at this point is remind Hokie Nation that “recruiting is an inexact science and it is difficult to predict the future. I could have lied and told the Curry family he would have been in the rotation and that I was going to cut Zabian and Jamon’s minutes and [that] Nigel was not that good a prospect, but I don’t work that way. I have always tried to be upfront and honest in recruiting.”

Seth’s reward for his candor was a berth in this year’s NIT. (And as an added bonus, Munson, the former DeMatha point guard, transferred after his freshman season.)

As for Alexander, Gary Williams can hardly be faulted for “missing” on him. Heck, Joe didn’t even exist until his junior year in high school, when his family relocated to Maryland after spending much of his youth in China. “I didn’t feel I deserved to be recruited by Division I schools,” he recently told the Frederick News-Post. “I never had the sense I was overlooked.”

So he spent a year as a backup at Hargrave Military Academy, bulked up a bit and piqued the curiosity of West Virginia. And now look at him. Against Duke he was blocking shots one moment and stepping back to swish a 3 the next.

But who knew? Certainly none of the college scouts who might have happened upon a Linganore game a few years back. The genetic code is a mysterious thing; there’s no telling when — or if — a borderline prospect is going to blossom into a buster of NCAA brackets.

At times like these, you can’t help thinking of the All-Time Late Bloomer, David Robinson. Two decades later, his story still seems like a work of fiction — a 6-7 beanstalk from Osbourn Park in Manassas arriving at Navy, of all places, with only one year of high school ball on his resume … and turning into a 7-1 Godzilla. If Robinson could take the Mids to the Elite Eight, what could he have done in College Park (teamed with Len Bias), Charlottesville (Olden Polynice) or Blacksburg (Dell Curry)?

Coaches are entertaining the same thoughts, no doubt, about Curry and Alexander as the two continue to shine in this NCAA tournament. By the way, there’s another Curry on the horizon, younger brother Seth, who’s reportedly headed to Liberty University. His career arc — or should I say his growth pattern — has been quite similar to Stephen’s.

In other words, Tech fans will probably have another late bloomer to second-guess Greenberg about in another couple of years. There’s gotta be an easier way for a guy to make a living.

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