By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Akil Mitchell played with him at Charlotte Christian School.
Ritchie McKay and Brad Soucie coached him at Liberty University.
Mike Scott, Sammy Zeglinski and Mustapha Farrakhan played against him at John Paul Jones Arena two seasons ago.
To many associated with the UVa men’s basketball team, Seth Curry needs no introduction. But Saturday will be the Cavaliers’ first encounter with the 6-2 guard since he became eligible to play for defending NCAA champion Duke.
The phrase “freshman phenom” long ago became a cliché, but that was an accurate description of Curry in 2008-09, when he averaged 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals for Liberty. The Flames’ head coach that season was McKay, and his assistants included Soucie.
Liberty went 23-12 in 2008-09, tying the school record for wins in a Division I season, and its victims included UVa. In what ranks as the low point of Dave Leitao’s tenure as Virginia’s coach, his team lost 86-82 to Liberty at JPJ.
Curry torched the Cavaliers for 26 points that November night, and after the game McKay said, “I think he has a chance to be one of the best players ever to put on a Flames jersey.”
That might well have happened, but in late March 2009, Curry announced that he was transferring to Duke. A little more than a week later, McKay left Liberty to become associate head coach at UVa under Tony Bennett.
Curry, whose father, Dell, starred at Virginia Tech and in the NBA, sat out the 2009-10 season at Duke. But the Wahoos will see plenty of him Saturday. He’s been playing about 21 minutes a game for the Blue Devils and averages 7.8 points.
Given that he and Curry each found a new home after their season together at Liberty, this game is “a little awkward,” McKay acknowledged Thursday afternoon after Virginia’s practice at JPJ.
“We both left voluntarily. Typically you don’t have situations or circumstances like this. However, I’m a fan of the Curry family, and I love Seth. He was a terrific player and an even better person. So I root for him like crazy every time I watch Duke and admire how much better he’s gotten.”
McKay smiled. “However, for 40 minutes in Cameron Indoor, I’ll be rooting strongly for the Cavs.”
Duke (2-1 ACC, 15-1 overall), which lost Wednesday night at Florida State, hosts UVa (1-1, 10-6) at 2 p.m. Saturday. Mitchell, who was two grades behind Curry at Charlotte Christian, is a freshman forward for the ‘Hoos, and his role has grown since Scott was sidelined with an ankle injury.
Soucie is in his second year as UVa’s director of basketball operations. Scott, Zeglinski and Farrakhan are the only players left from the team that lost to Liberty on Nov. 25, 2008.
Curry’s older brother, of course, is former Davidson star Stephen Curry, now a guard for the Golden State Warriors. Whether Seth will one day join Stephen in the NBA is still to be determined, but McKay says little brother has polished his game since moving from Lynchburg to Durham.
“He’s stronger, more complete, a much better defender,” McKay said. “Obviously he’s playing for some of the best coaches in the country. But that’s just who the Currys are. They’re going to get better, and Seth has as great a desire to compete as anyone I’ve coached.”