It’s a kid’s dream to shoot like Stephen Curry. It’s a dream beyond imagining to shoot better than him.
Bryce Johnson has bragging rights forever. On Thursday afternoon, the UMBC guard went head to head shooting halfcourt logo heaves against the 35-year-old Golden State guard who is widely considered the best shooter in NBA history — and Johnson hit his shot in three attempts to Curry’s five.
“That’s like my favorite memory, for real,” said Johnson, a junior transfer from Chicago State. “Steph Curry is my favorite player of all time, and I swear I beat him.”
It was a fever dream of sorts. The Retrievers learned just last week that one of the NBA’s biggest stars was coming to their gym for an Under Armour showcase. Thousands of people would come to see Curry, Will Barton, Brandon Jennings, Bones Hyland and Jarace Walker, and the UMBC men’s and women’s basketball teams would be volunteers at the event.
Some of them didn’t believe it. Even once they did believe it, some of them thought Curry would keep his distance. But Curry — a small-school product himself out of Davidson in North Carolina — quickly closed the gap with his fellow ballers, shooting and dribbling with them, even throwing alley-oops for them to dunk.
Maryama Turkstra, a senior forward recovering from a knee injury, was fanning her eyes as tears started to leak out when they posed for a picture together. Curry wished her well on her recovery, which she expects to be complete in time for the season.
“Once he came over and talked to us, that’s when it became kind of real – like, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is actually happening!’” she said. “I might talk about this for the rest of my life. [His] wishing me luck is probably gonna get me through this season.”
It might seem a little counterintuitive that Curry would host a big event at the modest basketball program in Catonsville. The Retrievers are not a basketball powerhouse. The last time they got this much exposure might have been when UMBC became the first men’s team to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2018.
The “why” of Curry landing at UMBC is simple. The school is an Under Armour partner near Baltimore, and when organizers, including company founder Kevin Plank, started putting it together on short notice, Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena was available to host.
Curry’s charisma took care of everything else. UA’s headlining athlete put on a full shooting workout, went head to head from 3-point range with his fellow NBA stars (including his father, former NBAer Dell Curry) and played dunk contest judge and exhibition referee for a session that went nearly an hour longer than scheduled. Curry never seemed to tire of the stimulation, taking breaks only to high-five the crowd or sign the shoes an army of children thrust toward him from the stands.
The UMBC basketball teams enjoyed a more intimate experience. The Retrievers found the Warriors star … golden.
“It’s surreal,” said Khydarius Smith, a grad student transfer who plays forward. “You grow up seeing him on TV, but he’s just a regular person – a humble guy.”
A lot of people know the University of Maryland, where Plank played football and famously began his business selling shirts from his trunk, has a particularly special relationship with Under Armour (Terps football coach Mike Locksley attended with a seat at Plank’s side).
But so does UMBC, thanks in part to proximity to its Baltimore headquarters. The men’s and women’s teams get to test basketball shoe models up to a year before they’re released to the public. Women’s coach Johnetta Hayes points out that some of her athletes model for the company, which has struggled in recent years but still has big ambitions in the athletic wear market.
It’s not even Curry’s first visit to the college. He’s done a private workout at UMBC before. This time had a few more eyes — not to mention scores of children shouting, “Curry!” just hoping the NBA star would turn his head in their direction for an instant.
UMBC President Valerie Ashby was among the VIPs sitting courtside, getting a photo and a high-five from Curry during the exhibition. She called the school’s various partnerships with UA “fantastic,” and the company released a statement from marketing executive Sean Eggert that it’s proud to sponsor the local university.
But no words really speak louder than the Retrievers athletes recalling how bowled over they felt during a day that was dreamlike even as they lived it.
“Now people here in Baltimore are thinking, ‘Wow, Steph Curry went to UMBC,’” Turkstra said. “You hear a lot in recruiting about how people want bigger names and try to avoid midmajors. But [Steph] shows, and we’re showing, even if you go to a midmajor, you can still do something. It’s the player — not where you play.”