This past summer, to help him pass the quarantine doldrums in the leadup to the NBA draft, Nico Mannion spent hours studying Stephen Curry’s jump shot.
As he watched YouTube video after YouTube video on his laptop, Mannion dissected each facet of Curry’s motion: how he catches the ball low, quickly brings it above his head and releases it with such a high arc that almost no one can block it. What amazed Mannion, even after numerous viewings, was how fluid the entire process looked.
Mannion — like many point guards of his generation — long has admired Curry, but he didn’t start to seriously emulate Curry until he attended Curry’s SC30 Select Camp in Walnut Creek 2 ½ years ago. Over those few days, Mannion and 25 other highly touted recruits ate breakfast and lunch with Curry, saw him break down film and received detailed written feedback from him on their games.
Along the way, Mannion came to consider Curry a friend and mentor. Two weeks ago, when Mannion learned that a couple of teams wanted to draft him in the early to mid-second round, he informed them that he wasn’t interested. The Warriors intended to take him with the No. 48 pick, and Mannion liked the idea of learning from Curry every day in practice.
It didn’t hurt that the player Golden State took with the No. 2 pick, center James Wiseman, had built a relationship with Mannion at that SC30 Select Camp in 2018. Though Curry was joking when he said recently that the Warriors are only going to draft his former campers from now on, he recognizes that the bonds established in Walnut Creek should help ease the two Golden State rookies’ transition into the NBA.
Both only 19 years old, Wiseman and Mannion face steep learning curves as they navigate San Francisco’s housing market, a much higher level of competition and the grind of NBA travel — all while the world grapples with a pandemic. Having a couple familiar faces around can make the coming months less daunting.
“I have a great relationship with Steph,” Wiseman said. “Obviously, I went to his camp, so he taught me a lot. When I was in high school, he taught me a lot about the game of basketball, gave me a lot of information. I just took a picture with him. So, that’s my guy.”
Added Mannion: “At Steph’s camp, he was kind of just one of us for the weekend. He was doing drills with us, shooting with us. He didn’t play with us that year, but he was around. He was a good dude, and I’ve felt a connection to him ever since then. I think everyone who was there feels the same way.”
That Curry can now call two of his ex-campers teammates is a testament to his advanced age. At 32, he is the Warriors’ elder statesman. On multiple occasions over the past two weeks, Curry has jokingly asked friends, “When did I get so old?
But perhaps more importantly, Curry’s bond with Wiseman and Mannion speaks to his far-reaching influence. For much of the past decade, Curry’s No. 30 jersey has been a best seller among kids because he makes children believe they, too, can become NBA All-Stars. Unlike LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Curry is 6 feet 3, 185 pounds with an incessant giggle and no huge vertical leap.
In the past couple of years, a generation of players following Curry’s blueprint has started to reach the league. Just as Atlanta’s Trae Young, Denver’s Jamal Murray and others began to take basketball seriously, Curry was blossoming into a cultural phenomenon.
This is a responsibility that he cherishes. If not for studying the games of his father, Dell, and Steve Nash as a kid, Curry might not have blossomed into a two-time MVP.
In 2013, when Under Armour pitched him an endorsement deal, Curry was adamant about finding new ways to work with young players. His own camp was a logical next move. When working with Under Armour to map out the setup, Curry insisted that they keep the number of campers small so that he could give each player hands-on attention. His friends and family would serve as counselors.
Some of Curry’s fondest childhood memories are of attending his dad’s camps in the Charlotte, N.C., area, where Dell made a habit of joining the kids in scrimmages. In 2014, when Under Armour held the first SC30 Select Camp at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, the 20 campers there were shocked to see Curry participate in layup lines and pickup games.
Two years later, the camp grew to 30 players and moved to the Ultimate Fieldhouse, a 40,000-square-foot facility in Walnut Creek. In 2018, a handful of the nation’s top female players were invited.
Much of the buzz entering camp that year revolved around incoming high school senior and future No. 1 draft pick Anthony Edwards, who was already being compared to Dwyane Wade. But Bruce Fraser, Curry’s player-development coach with the Warriors and a counselor at the camp, was more impressed by Wiseman.
Though an ankle issue limited him, he participated in enough drills to showcase uncanny agility for a 7-footer. Another player who stood out to Fraser was Mannion. In the final round of the camp’s one-on-one tournament, he forced future first-round draft pick Precious Achiuwa into an off-balance hook shot that missed before Mannion lofted in an up-and-under layup for the title.
“I walked away Day 1 saying, ‘To me, Nico’s one of my favorite players at this camp jst because I love how smart he is and how tough he is,’” said Fraser, who has known Mannion since he was 10. “Those are intangibles that are hard to find.”
On Nov. 18, when Mannion finally went 48th to the Warriors, he was the seventh player from that 2018 SC30 Select Camp taken. As Mannion put it, “I honestly feel as good as if I had gone in the first round. I get to play behind Steph, and who wouldn’t want that? That’s a dream.”
On his first day working out at Chase Center last week, Mannion told Curry he is the best point guard of his generation. And Mannion should know. In the 28 months after meeting Curry at camp, Mannion studied almost every part of the superstar’s game in detail.
“For Steph, this camp is personal,” said Kris Stone, Curry’s personal Under Armour rep. “He has his fingerprints all over it, from helping select the players to running drills. And more than that, Steph makes a point to stay in touch with these guys. It’s unique.”
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