Jensen: Swarthmore basketball's Davidson connection

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Swarthmore mens basketball coach Landry Kosmalski shouts from the bench during a game against Muhlenberg at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa on Wednesday, February 17, 2016. Swarthmore actually has a good hoop team, in second place in the Centennial. Their coach Landry Kosmalski played and assisted at Davidson.

It comes up on the recruiting trail. Why wouldn't it? There's a name now synonymous with Davidson basketball. Of course it comes up.

The answer is always the same: No, I didn't coach him.

Swarthmore basketball coach Landry Kosmalski, in his fourth year at the school - which this season reached unprecedented heights - was a good ballplayer at Davidson, all-conference a couple of times. After his playing days, Kosmalski was an assistant coach at Davidson, then he left for three years before returning to Davidson as an assistant. There are all sorts of Davidson hoops touches now at Swarthmore.

So what was Kosmalski's time like at Davidson with Steph Curry?

Well, those three years away happened to be the three years when Steph Curry played at Davidson. What are the odds?

Although Kosmalski was there for the recruiting process, "I didn't recruit him - I never take credit for that," Kosmalski said last week, sitting in his office at Swarthmore. "But I would go and watch him play because he was 20 minutes down the road. I don't think anyone at that time would say he's going to be NBA MVP. He was definitely special. You could tell he had mental capabilities beyond most high school kids, but he was so small and skinny."

Kosmalski's bottom line: "I met him for 20 minutes in a camp one summer." He made it a point not to "make it like I'm trying to attach myself to Steph when we never talk."

The Garnet finished this regular season 19-6, second in the Centennial Conference, a program record for wins. This will be their first appearance in the conference playoffs since 1997.

Watching Swarthmore, you see a team obsessed with passing up decent shots for better shots: a fast-paced group, with frequent subs, a group that knows its jobs. The shooters shoot, the screeners screen, the low-post guys get to their spots. Swarthmore's guys are very precise in their actions off the ball. Whether the ball goes in the basket or not, there is a little ballet going on.

How much Davidson is there in Swarthmore's program right now? What is the influence Kosmalski picked up from longtime Davidson coach Bob McKillop?

"A lot," said Kosmalski, who reached the NCAA tournament as a player and coach at Davidson. "You'd have to be around Coach - a lot of details, emphasis on a lot of the little things. At a place like Davidson, you have to compensate because you don't have the athleticism, so you have to do all the little details. So he is just a master of all those little details. . . . Coach says rip every catch. We say that every day, like a hundred times."

On the recruiting front, what's been the heavy lifting to get Swarthmore to this point in a relative short time? Kosmalski said the players already here bought in, setting the tone. They just need a huge recruiting pool to find the academic fits that can play for them.

"Our pool is probably smaller than most - in terms of who we like, how they fit our system, but also their attitude, their unselfishness," Swarthmore's coach said. "I think a good example is our freshman class. We've got one from Minneapolis, one from Atlanta, one from Los Angeles. We have to go all over the country to find guys who fit the academic profile and fit what we're looking for athletically."

The first thing they'll do is knock guys out really quickly, Kosmalski said, for reasons other coaches may not. Their ethos is the same as at Davidson, said explicitly: We're not going to recruit any jerks. They sell that to recruits: You won't play with jerks. If they see potential recruits who are more about their own appearance and their points and shots, they'll move on.

How do they scour the country? What are the mechanisms? They can't just go to the Peach Jam or some Las Vegas shootout and find players.

"When I got here, that was one of the pleasant surprises, how all the Ivy League schools do elite camps," Kosmalski said. "They have 150, 200 kids. Not all of them can get to Swarthmore, but a large percentage of them can. We got to every Ivy elite camp we can. And then Hoop Group has one, and there are others."

The combined pool, Kosmalski guesses, is more than 1,000 players.

Is this team on the timetable the coach expected?

"I thought this team would be good - I am a little surprised they made this jump," he said. "Their focus every single day has been amazing. They're really good about holding each other accountable. . . . They've got the experience, and know what we're looking to do, and they can kind of coach each other. It's kind of running itself now - we don't have to do as much as coaches, which is great."

Asking Kosmalski about Curry is natural and he talked about Curry's use of deception and change of speed and Curry's supreme confidence, plus the balance Curry has in life. If you're a Davidson guy, you're naturally following Curry closely.

So the big ACC schools missed Curry, but was he a high-target recruit for Davidson?

"You know, I remember this very specifically - the end of his junior year, we had a meeting," Kosmalski said. "We were in the office, the five coaches. We said, 'Should we offer Steph? He's a local kid, he's good.' "

At that point, McKillop hadn't seen Curry yet.

"We ended up saying yes, but it wasn't like, 'Oh, gosh, we've just got to get him,' from Day 1," Kosmalski said. "Coach McKillop . . . one of the things he's taught us, he's really big into recruiting genes. He's willing to risk with people if they have the genetic background."

Curry's father, Dell, was one of the great NBA shooters. As it happens, Kosmalski's own father, Len, played a couple of NBA seasons in the '70s before playing in Europe.

When Landry Kosmalski returned to Davidson for a second stint as an assistant after a few years coaching high school ball, he almost did have the chance to work directly with Steph Curry. That was to be Curry's senior season.

"Two weeks later he turned pro," Kosmalski said.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus