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June 26, 2013

Downey remembers Martin





He had nothing to prove and could only hurt himself and his career, but there was a goal, and there was a ball.

Devan Downey didn't need to see anything else.

As he did for three seasons at South Carolina, Downey took over a game last week when he suited up for the S.C. Pro Am, scoring 35 points, including 14 of his team's 18 in one stretch. The diminutive guard who left a legacy as one of the greatest scorers - if not the greatest - in program history did what he does in the series of exhibition games that is taking place at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School throughout the summer.

Downey played in Romania last year, another stop on his world tour of Turkey, Croatia and France. He's still hoping to get a shot at the NBA - he had a brief layover with Fort Wayne of the NBA Developmental League in 2012 but like most of his chances at the NBA, scouts only saw his height, or lack of.

He'll keep playing, because that's what he does best. Hopefully something will come around. In the meantime, he'll enjoy being back in Columbia.

"I'm not going back (to Romania)," Downey said. "Right now, I'm just waiting. I've got a few offers on the table right now, taking my time."

Downey holds a unique position in USC history, not only for what he did (1,901 points in three seasons, fourth on the career scoring chart, and setting the school record with 277 steals), but because he has a link to the past three Gamecock coaches. He played at USC under Dave Odom and Darrin Horn, and when he was at Cincinnati for the 2005-06 season, one of the Bearcats' assistant coaches was a fiery man named Frank Martin.

Martin joined Cincinnati under Bob Huggins for the 2004-05 season, and stayed when fellow assistant Andy Kennedy was given the interim head coach slot when Huggins was ousted in August 2005. The 2005-06 season was Downey's freshman year, where he made the Big East All-Rookie team, and Downey hinted that if Kennedy was given the full-time job, he might stay at Cincinnati despite never getting to play for the man (Huggins) who recruited him.

Cincinnati instead turned to Mick Cronin, Kennedy split for Ole Miss and Huggins resurfaced at Kansas State, where Martin joined him. Downey decided to transfer and Kansas State was an intriguing option. He remembered how Martin had guided him at Cincinnati, and he could play for Martin and Huggins there (although as it turned out, Huggins would leave after one season for West Virginia, placing Martin in the head chair).

"He was a little more quiet back then," Downey said. "Frank was great. He was a great coach. He still knew basketball. He was just quieter. Frank's always been a great guy to me. He was the one coach that really made me work on my jump shot, because I would always go to the hole and get knocked around. He's always teased me about that."

A visit to his native Chester and talks with Odom convinced Downey that he should finish his career where his family could see him play, and he pledged to USC. But it was that close.

"If I wouldn't have come home, I would have went to Kansas State," Downey said.

After sitting out his transfer year, Downey supplied a brand of basketball that hadn't been seen at USC in quite some time, but never played on a team that made the NCAA tournament. He departed for the always-interesting world of overseas basketball, but still comes home when he can, like when he helped USC out with its basketball intro video last year (Click).

"They reached out," Downey said. "I love Carolina, so any way I can help, keep a familiar face for the fans, I'm going to do that. I'm willing to do it next year if they want me to."

Downey was also asked about some whispers of his place in USC history. He is already one of the greatest players that the program has seen, and a fitting tribute to him would be to hang his No. 2 from the rafters at Colonial Life Arena. USC currently has five retired jerseys (Grady Wallace, John Roche, Kevin Joyce, Alex English and BJ McKie), with a banner commemorating coach Frank McGuire's 550 career wins and one labeled "The Voice" in recognition of longtime broadcaster Bob Fulton. The 2013-14 season will be the fourth since Downey departed; USC rules stipulate that no athlete can have his number retired until he has been gone for at least five years.

But once that point comes, it would be a natural to hold a ceremony to retire Downey's number. While Brian Richardson wore the number for three seasons after Downey, his departure has left it vacant, and none of the eight newcomers for the 2013-14 season will be wearing it.

Downey fits the criteria. He has his degree from USC; he holds a career record (steals); he was first-team All-SEC for all of his three seasons at USC. In two more years, he will have to be recommended by the coach and the athletic director and be presented to a selection committee.

It seems likely that Martin would be receptive to the idea, having known Downey for so long, and would endorse Downey when the moment came, despite never coaching him at USC. Downey, naturally, would love to be considered.

"That'd be great," he said. "That would be great. This is home to me and I'd love to see that."



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