CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Shandrea Gainey and her son Korin made the trip from Gainesville, Florida, to Charlotte on the off chance they’d get to meet NBA superstar Stephen Curry.
A single mom who works two jobs — she’s a certified medical coder in the morning and a communications tech at a hospital on the weekends — Gainey sacrificed so her 17-year-old son could attend Curry’s Underrated Tour, which is a series of free basketball camps launched in January designed to highlight underrated prep athletes looking to make it to the next level.
A scant security presence at each entrance is the only hint that Curry might make an appearance at this three-hour basketball camp. But a delayed flight to Charlotte — the Golden State Warriors were in town to play the Hornets on Feb. 25 — would thwart any Curry sighting on this night.
Korin’s ultimate goal for attending the camp, however, is far from getting a selfie with Curry: He wants to use this experience to make his life, and his mother’s life, better.
“She made a sacrifice for me ’cause it wasn’t easy for both of us,” Korin said of his mother, who gave birth to him when she was a teenager. “This basketball thing hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve been doubted and I just keep working. I just wanna make it to a point where she can’t work anymore, and that’s what drives me on the court just to go hard every day.”
Korin, who is one of 40 high school students at the camp running drills similar to Curry’s pregame routine, is doing his part at just over 6 feet, 170 pounds, and with a scowl on his face. His mom said Korin was at a school last year where he didn’t get any playing time, so he transferred to Eastside High School, where he’s now getting an opportunity to play.
Although Curry was not able to attend the camp, the two-time league MVP — who teammate Andre Iguodala believes is still underrated — didn’t have to be in the room with the players to identify with their stories.
“I know that feeling well,” Curry told The Undefeated. “I was that kid with something to prove. I’m humbled that Korin made his way from Florida to attend the camp. The camp was created for players like him: kids who love to hoop and deeply believe they are better than scouts and others are perceiving him.”
‘PASSING THE EYE TEST’
At 15 and standing 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Curry and his scrawny build hardly looked the part of a can’t-miss prospect, even with the benefit of a dad in the NBA.
This was the inspiration for the Underrated Tour, which started in Los Angeles and made stops in Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City. The last stop on the tour is Oakland, California, on March 22. The seven-stop camp is open to unsigned high school players with a 3-star ranking or below, giving overlooked athletes the opportunity to refine their skills, gain exposure and achieve a deeper understanding of the game. Participants get best-in-class resources, tips and hands-on training from elite coaches — including Curry’s trainer Brandon Payne.
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“When you look at the landscape from a grassroots basketball, there’s an immense amount of talent out there, but I think moreover there’s also an archetype, a physical archetype, and quote-unquote ‘passing the eye test,’ right?” said Jeron Smith, Curry’s business manager and friend. “I think most would agree that, more than likely, Stephen didn’t pass that eye test coming up. And sometimes when you don’t pass that eye test, incredible talents can be missed.
“Stephen has talked about his story in high school and how the landscape of AAU basketball was really rooted in elite camps for the kids who are probably one year away from going to the NBA. That was his insight, like, ‘You know, I probably wouldn’t have been invited to my own elite camp.’ ”
All the stops, which have attracted players from all over the country, are special, Curry said, but Charlotte is different for obvious reasons.
“I know all of the stops have been great, but being able to bring it to Charlotte is truly special,” said Curry, who made sure the camp came with an emphasis on the fundamentals, with scrimmage games, dribbling, defensive techniques and, of course, shooting drills. “This is the city where my crazy basketball journey began, and being a part of and giving back to my community here is very important to me. Charlotte will always be a must-stop for the tour.”
Zane Caudle is by far the smallest camper in Charlotte. A freshman at High Point Christian Academy in High Point, Zane embodies the word “underrated,” standing at just over 5 feet tall and weighing a hair over 100 pounds.
“This opportunity fits my child to a T,” explains Zane’s father, Jeremey. “My child is a 5-foot kid who loves to play basketball and is pretty good at it, but at the end of the day he’s an overlooked person just as Steph was. …
“I think this has been a great confidence-booster for him. At the end of the day, to come out here, play with these guys, do what he’s done and kinda get the recognition the way he has the last couple of days is gonna only make him better. It’s going to make his heart want it a little bit more.”
IT’S ABOUT BEING OVERLOOKED
Omar Carter has had a front-row seat to the evolution of Stephen Curry for more than two decades. As former AAU teammates between the ages of 9 and 11, Carter said, Curry always played with something to prove, knowing he didn’t fit the prototype that coaches and big schools craved.
“He’s always been an underrated player,” said Carter, Curry’s teammate at Charlotte Christian School, where Curry’s legend grew. “He’s always had that chip on his shoulder; that’s why it’s no surprise to me that he started the tour. But it’s also just about being overlooked. I mean … Davidson [College] just took a chance on him as this skinny kid, but he had that tenacity [who] wouldn’t take no for an answer. Pretty much what you see now — the unorthodox layups, the trick dribbles, pulling from deep — is what we saw back then, and he’s just mastered his craft.”
Nobody saw this version of Curry, the one who will go down as the greatest shooter in the history of the game, coming — except Curry himself, which is why he’s the ultimate Exhibit A for kids with hopes and dreams of something bigger.
Said Curry: “My message to kids like Korin and all of the other athletes in the Underrated Tour is don’t let others write your story or put limits on you. Keep pushing, and take advantage of every opportunity.”