Taking a Closer Look at Davidson Basketball: A Talk With Author Michael Kruse

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IJanuary 6, 2009

It started over ten years ago with a failed attempt to write a book recapping the history of Davidson basketball.

That "it" is author Michael Kruse's quest to retell the 16.8 seconds that stood between Davidson and a trip to the school's first Final Four.

Kruse took a year off before his senior year at Davidson College to write a book. He traveled with the team, interviewed countless people with connections to the program, and filled in any blanks with research. 

But Kruse says things didn't come together in the end, "It didn't happen mainly because I didn't know what I was getting myself into because I was all of like 20 [years old]."

In the end, Kruse's year of work wasn't for naught, "What I ended up getting out of that year—beyond 200ish pages of now dusty, mortifying manuscript—was a heck of a lot of background for this project."

Kruse said his project was to take three months off from his job at The St. Petersburg Times to interview over 300 people, current players, former players, current coaches, former coaches, opposing coaches, any media members who covered the team, fans, professors, and members of the community.

If you had an opinion or story about Davidson basketball Kruse wanted it.

Kruse says several things inspired him to write his book, "Taking the Shot: Davidson Basketball Moment."

"I was in Detroit for the Kansas game as an alum, not as a reporter, and so I was in the stands for the last play," says Kruse, "And I had trouble seeing. Not because I couldn't see but because it felt like it was almost too much to take in."

Kruse described that moment as "powerful and even profound for people for whom Davidson basketball is important."

Kruse says he "wanted to know how others experienced those 16.8 seconds."

Message boards usually known for rumors, bantering, and opinionated commentary provided the driving force for Kruse's ambitions.

"Two days after the Kansas game, a Davidson grad and a chaplain at a mental hospital in Morganton, North Carolina, named William Robertson wrote something on the men's basketball board at DavidsonCats.com that was awesome and thoughtful and beautiful," says Kruse.

An excerpt from that post read, "But in that moment, we had in our hearts and minds, proleptically I think the theologians would say, the joy of having it go in. Before it was not in, it was as good as in. For that fraction of a second, we had that experience, and it is enough. It is well worth the journey. At least for me it is, and I guess the ultimate point of this too-long post is that I hope it is also worth it for Jason. He took the shot. He gave us that moment. He trusted, and all we can do is be sure our reaction is worthy of that trust."

Kruse says, "It made me want to know more."

So Kruse told the stories of how hundreds people spent the last 16.8 seconds of Davidson's Elite Eight clash with Kansas; the 16.8 seconds the Wildcats had to score a basket to overcome the Jayhawks two point lead.

It started with hope. The ball was in the hands of the nation's best scorer, Stephen Curry. Coach Bob McKillop drew up a play that has always worked so well.

Curry tried to roll off a high ball screen, but was forced to the sideline. After two Kansas defenders chased him back across the court, Curry pump faked, but then didn't shoot. Davidson's practically unstoppable force wouldn't be taking the final shot.

Instead Curry put the ball in the hands of the nation's top passer, Jason Richards, a capable three-point shooter. The senior hoisted the last shot of his college career, but the ball didn't find the hoop. It clanked off the right side of the backboard and Davidson's magical run was finally over.

It was the third time Davidson had reached the Elite Eight. It was also the third time Davidson failed to win the game to reach the Final Four.

But as the old adage simply goes, "There's always next year."

For Davidson, that next year meant competing without its second, third, and fourth leading scorers from its Elite Eight squad.

"I was at graduation last May, and I watched three very fine basketball players walk across that stage," recalled Kruse, "Jason Richards, Thomas Sander, and Boris Meno were really, really good."

Despite losing that trio of seniors, Davidson has still knocked off a pair of major conference teams, West Virginia and North Carolina State. But road wins against a ranked opponent are still hard to come by for this tiny school of 1,700 students.

The Wildcats fell on the road to both Oklahoma and Purdue, two teams that have ascended to top ten ratings this year.

Davidson gets its final chance of the regular season to pick up a quality victory Wednesday at Duke; in the Blue Devils' infamous arena, few teams live to tell the tale of victory.

"Davidson is going to have a hard time winning at Cameron. That's not a putdown. That's a fact. [North] Carolina is going to have a hard time winning at Cameron. That sweaty tiny little joint is an uncomfortable place. It's uncomfortable to be a fan in there. It's uncomfortable to be a reporter in there. It's uncomfortable to be just about anybody except somebody wearing a jersey that says 'Duke'," says Kruse.

Kruse says he sticks to story telling, not the x's and o's of the game, but pointed out a few keys to the game for Davidson.

"Davidson's chances would get a boost with some makes from Bryant Barr and Will Archambault, no debilitating foul trouble for Andrew Lovedale or Steve Rossiter, something unexpected from somebody unexpected, and let's just say—yes, of course—something other than an off night from young, No. 30."

While the odds are against Davidson Wednesday night against Duke, they are in favor once again for the Wildcats to repeat as Southern Conference champions.

Through this past Saturday, Davidson is an astounding 46-1 over the past three seasons in the conference, and winners of 39 straight.

"Somebody's going to win a game this year," claims Kruse, "It has to happen...no team can go 20-0 in a league TWO STRAIGHT SEASONS...



Michael Kruse is the author of the book, "Taking the Shot: The Davidson Basketball Moment." For more on Kruse, check out his website, 16.8 or his blog on Davidson basketball.