The NCAA Tournament is always a time for the future stars of the NBA to showcase themselves to their future employers, but rarely do you see several future pros all come up so big in March that they win the Outstanding Player Award in their respective regionals. That’s what happened in the 2008 NCAA Tournament though, as regionals weekend saw Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Steph Curry all come up big.
Rose was a freshman for Memphis and no one doubted he was a one-and-done player, the kind then-Tiger head coach John Calipari has thrived on recruiting, either here or later on in building a national champion at Kentucky. Rose, with considerable help from another immensely talented frosh in Chris Douglas-Roberts led Memphis to a 33-1 record, the top seed in the South Regional and into the Sweet 16 in Houston.
Love played for UCLA, who after two consecutive Final Four appearances, went on to win another Pac-12 title, be seeded #1 in the West and then survive a dogfight from Texas A&M in the tournament’s second round to reach the regionals in Phoenix.
Curry was the least heralded of them all, playing for tiny Davidson in the Southern Conference. Curry led his team to a 26-6 record, and got sufficient attention from the Selection Committee that they were seeded 10th in the Midwest, an abnormally high seed for such a low-profile conference. There was nothing low profile about the NCAA’s first weekend tough—Curry scored 30-plus points in wins over Gonzaga and Georgetown and his team moved on to Detroit to play for the Final Four.
Memphis might have been a #1 seed, but they were widely considered the most vulnerable of the favorites, between their youth, free-throw shooting problems and the weak competition in Conference USA. You wouldn’t convince Michigan State and Tom Izzo of that though. Rose scored 27 points, Douglas-Roberts added 25 and the Tigers had a 50-20 lead on the Spartans by halftime, cruising to an easy win.
Then it was on to play #2 seed Texas in what promised to be a good regional final. This was a promise not kept though, as Rose again dazzled, with 21 points/6 rebounds/9 assists. Douglas-Roberts tossed in another 25 and Memphis coasted to an easy 85-67 win, with Rose named Most Outstanding Player.
UCLA’s path wasn’t quite as tough, with a gutted bracket only leaving Western Kentucky and Xavier in the Bruins’ way. No one could match up with Love. He had 29 points/14 rebounds in leading the way past the Hilltoppers. In the win over Xavier, Love’s 19 was part of a balanced attack, and his 10 rebounds keyed a second straight game where UCLA dominated in rebounding. Love would be an easy choice for MOP.
This writer is a Wisconsin fan, and was counting on his team making it to a regional final showdown with Kansas in the Midwest. Curry got in the way—in a big way. He delivered yet another 30-plus point game. Shooting 11-of-22 from the floor and banging home six treys, Curry helped Davidson break open a tie game at the half and turn it into a shockingly easy 73-56 win.
Davidson got the shot at Kansas, and Curry scored 25 more in that game, with no other player on the floor for either team getting more than 13. Davidson lost 61-59, as Curry, under a defensive double-team had to give up the ball on the final possession, but his dominance of the weekend still made him a natural choice as the Outstanding Player.
Rose, Love and Curry have all gone on to make a big mark in the NBA. No one more so than Rose, who won the MVP award in 2011, and presuming he’s recovered from the torn ACL in the 2012 NBA playoffs, will be set to lead his Chicago Bulls back into championship contention. Love has been a two-time All-Star, even as he plays for lowly Minnesota and is widely considered one of the game’s best. Curry, after struggling with foot injuries early in his career, exploded on the scene in the 2013 NBA playoffs, leading Golden State to a series win over Denver and throwing a big scare into San Antonio.
This power trio weren’t the only ones making their mark on regionals weekend in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Tyler Hansbrough was Player of the Year at North Carolina and had a 28/13 game in putting his team past Louisville and into the Final Four. And speaking of that Final Four, the Outstanding Player in New Orleans was Mario Chalmers. The Kansas guard hit a game-tying three at the end of regulation and helped the Jayhawks win a national championship. He’s since had a little success of his own at the next level, as a starter for the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
The 2008 NCAA Tournament saw the stars come to shine, and on the weekend when Final Four spots were settled, none shone brighter than Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Steph Curry.