Oklahoma State is getting a second chance at the Big 12 title thanks to a freshman who is getting a second chance at his career. Since 6'3" guard JamesOn Curry entered the starting lineup on Jan. 30, the Cowboys have won six straight games, including an 85--56 blowout of Texas Tech last Saturday. The win lifted Oklahoma State into a tie with Kansas (which lost to Iowa State earlier in the day) for first place in the conference.
Curry's future looks considerably brighter than it did on Feb. 4, 2004, when he was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover cop and kicked out of Eastern Alamance High (where he had scored a state-record 3,307 points) in Mebane, N.C. After Curry pleaded guilty to six felony drug counts in April (he was sentenced to three years' probation and 200 hours of community service), North Carolina coach Roy Williams rescinded the school's scholarship offer. One of Curry's uncles contacted Oklahoma State after reading a story about how former Cowboy Tony Allen had turned his life around in Stillwater after struggling at two junior colleges. A flurry of phone calls, visits and background checks ensued, and Oklahoma State offered Curry a scholarship in May.
Head coach designate Sean Sutton says the staff knew it was getting a special offensive talent, but he's been surprised by Curry's defensive tenacity and passing ability. "You think a guy who averages 40 points must be shooting the ball all the time, but that's not the way he plays," says Sutton. "He's a very unselfish player."
While Sutton and his dad, Eddie, the Cowboys' coach, experimented with a big lineup in the first half of the season, Curry came off the bench and averaged 5.8 points. But after Oklahoma State got hammered inside in two late-January losses, Curry was inserted into the starting five. Since then he has averaged 14.3 points, and the team has beaten opponents by an average of 17.3 points. "Putting JamesOn in the lineup has really helped this team on both ends of the court," says Sean Sutton. "He puts our other guys back at their natural positions where they played a year ago, so our defense is better. I think this team is a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable in their roles."
That includes Curry, who is happy to be making headlines on the court again. "The time had come when the team was going to click and find chemistry and play well; it just so happened to come when I got in the starting lineup," says Curry. "I'm not going to take any credit. I'm just working hard like everybody else."