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It might have been a small step for Ronald Curry's football career, but it looked like a giant leap for his pending basketball career.

Curry, the freshman quarterback-point guard, got his first taste of college athletics Saturday night in North Carolina's stunning 13-10 loss to Miami of Ohio. He can only assume that major-college basketball will come easier.``I'm not thinking about basketball right now,' he said after the game.

How long Curry remains Carolina's starting quarterback depends on two things: the healing capacity of oft-injured Oscar Davenport and Curry's own capacity to play football with basketball on his mind.

Curry will weigh the options later in the season, which gives Carolina's basketball coaches a lot of time to worry and gives Carolina's football coaches a lot of time to sell Curry on playing football beyond his short-term, two-sport experiment.

Final Fours and major bowl games could hang in the balance. Judging from his and Carolina's performance Saturday, Final Fours are more likely than major bowl games.

Curry is now the starting quarterback for the UNC football team, something a lot of Carolina football people thought was a remote possibility and something a lot of Carolina basketball people considered a nightmarish possibility.

He was brought here to play basketball.

``Right now, I'm a football player,' Curry said. ``Basketball's not even in the picture. I'm gonna play as long as I can play. Maybe football's not my sport and I have to stick with basketball. Maybe basketball's not my sport and I have to stick with football.'

His uncertain future in both sports will keep a lot of people uneasy, not unlike the vagaries of the heated recruiting battle that guided him to Chapel Hill to start with.

The recruitment of Curry was a soap opera of broken promises, scorned suitors and embittered rivals. It ended with the top high school athlete in the country coming to North Carolina after promising to play at Virginia. He came to Carolina to play basketball after signing a football scholarship.

The events leading to Curry's arrival in Chapel Hill were unlike any recruiting process before it. In the end, he was being courted by two schools and four athletic departments. He made two separate commitments, one oral and one in writing. He lost paperwork from Virginia and signed the papers from UNC.

Through it all, he got advice from two different groups of advisers - his ``basketball people' and his ``football people.' The basketball people were headed by Hampton High School coach Walter Bower and Curry's summer AAU coach Boo Williams. The football people were headed by Hampton football coach Mike Smith.

Eventually, Curry was convinced to come to Carolina to play both football and basketball, signing a football grant in the offices of Williams, one of the basketball people.

Virginia football coach George Welsh cried foul and threatened to report ``recruiting irregularities' to the NCAA. As of now, he hasn't done that. Critics of the process - and not all were in Virginia - accused Nike of brokering a deal for Carolina at the expense of Virginia, a school with ties to rival shoe company Reebok.

Curry said shoes had nothing to do with his decision. In the final days of the soap opera, Curry decided to break his ``oral commitment' to Virginia and signed a grant to play football for Carolina after a late visit from Carolina basketball coaches Phil Ford and Bill Guthridge.

``My dream is to play in the NBA,' he said.

Curry has said if he wanted to play college football, he would have gone to Florida State.

``If you're going to major in business, you go to the best business school you can find,' he said recently. ``If you're going to choose basketball, you go to one of the top basketball schools.'

Curry is playing football but plans to major in basketball.

``I want to try both sports for a year,' he said. ``And then I'll see.'

Carl Torbush knows he could lose his freshman quarterback if Curry loses interest in football. And Ford will begin to worry if Curry becomes so successful that the Tar Heels build an offense around the freshman. The athletes in the program are doing their own recruiting.

``We know he's a great football player,' center Cam Holland said. ``We know he's a great football player. We just hope we can keep him as long as we can. They said before the year that if he wasn't playing he might leave in October. But he's playing now. He played a lot tonight, so hopefully he'll stick with us.'

Curry's first game will not be one to remember unless it leads him toward one sport or the other. Ultimately, that's how Curry will be judged at Carolina.

``He'll improve,' Torbush said.

And then the recruitment of Ronald Curry will really heat up.


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