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November 2, 2008

Preseason story line No. 9: Cinderella sequel?

Rivals.com has selected the top 25 story lines for the 2008-09 season and will be revealing one daily. At No. 9 we take a look at Davidson. Can the Wildcats create the same magic that got them to the Elite Eight last season?

In Hollywood sequels are rarely as good as the original, but no one can seem to resist the temptation to grab for more cash after a successful first film.

College basketball teams don't have the luxury of walking away. They must have a sequel, even if there are major changes in the cast.

At least say this for the Davidson Wildcats: Their leading man is back. Guard Stephen Curry was a scene-stealer last season, ranking fourth nationally in scoring (25.9 ppg). He owned the NCAA tournament, dropping 40 on Gonzaga, 30 on Georgetown, 33 on Wisconsin and 25 on Kansas as Davidson reached the Elite Eight.

So what can the Wildcats do for a sequel? Is it reasonable to believe they can stay at the same level after losing starters Jason Richards and Thomas Sander and part-time starter Boris Meno?

"The jury is still out," longtime Davidson coach Bob McKillop told Rivals.com. "One of the facts that is clear to me is we lose a lot in Jason, Thomas and Boris, but they have left a lot behind in terms of a winning mentality. They've been mentoring the younger players.

"Two years ago we lost seven seniors. We had been in the NCAA tournament and narrowly lost to Ohio State. There were clouds over our program, what would happen. But during that time period those seven seniors had been sensational in mentoring the underclassmen. Jason Richards had been a backup as a freshman and sophomore then he steps in and is one of the leaders in the country in assists. He was ready because of their leadership. The quality they leave behind pays great dividends."

The 2008 NCAA tournament was a magical run for the small liberal arts school about 30 miles north of Charlotte against four of the nation's elite programs. That they came within two points of the knocking off the eventual national champion Jayhawks in the regional final is testament to the skill of Curry and the coaching acumen of McKillop.

McKillop is entering his 20th season at Davidson. He has a record of 338-224, and he has led the Wildcats to five NCAA tournament appearances, including the past three. The Wildcats are 63-6 in the Southern Conference over the past four seasons.

The arrival of Curry has thrust McKillop into the national spotlight, but he was a well-respected coach before Dell Curry's son ever showed up on campus. McKillop is a motion-offense guru whose system has fit the lithe junior perfectly.

"I was trained and experienced at being a high school coach and teacher," McKillop said. "So I never lost sight of those roots, and I treasure those memories. I understand I've been put on a different stage than some of my friends from those days. I consider myself very fortunate."

Davidson doesn't have the giant, state-of-the-art arena or the multimillion-dollar practice facility. The program is built on a sense of community, academics and a sage and soothing mentor who is every bit the coach of any big name at a bigger program.

"When you're in the situation that we are, attention doesn't always come our way, and we've welcomed it with a significant degree of humility," McKillop said. "You can get to thinking you're more important than you are. We understand we were fortunate. A close play here and there and we don't make that magical run. We've never lost sight of that. We're staying grounded."

Another Elite Eight probably is too much to ask. But it's kind of hard to bet against McKillop and Curry given what they have done in the past two years.

They're box-office gold.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. ET and can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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