Matchup with Wall? Ho-hum, says Downey

Kentucky phenom is latest star USC’s point guard has faced in five-year career

semerson@thestate.comJanuary 26, 2010 

Devan Downey has been through this before. Another opponent with a big-time guard. Another chance to prove himself on a national stage.

The USC fifth-year senior seems weary of it. When asked whether he embraced the chance to play Kentucky's John Wall tonight, Downey responded: "Why?"

Great player vs. great player?

"I've played a whole lot of great players in my career," Downey said. "I've played a whole lot of pros. Some of those same guys I watch on the NBA. So it's just another game for me."

Was he talking about two years ago, when O.J. Mayo and Southern California visited Columbia?

"Go back before then," Downey said. "I guarded five or six pros my year at Cincinnati. So I've always been playing against great players."

Maybe it will be just another game for Downey. As for Wall, he is embracing the matchup.

"It's going to be a good one," Wall said. "I'm not going to be the only one guarding him. It's not going to be just a one-on-one battle, but he's one of the top point guards in the SEC. He can score the ball in different kinds of ways. It's going to be a good matchup for us, but were going to try to find a way to stop him."

Downey and Wall have at least two things in common: They're point guards, and they're great players. If balloting were held today for SEC player of the year, they would probably finish 1-2.

Otherwise, though, there are plenty of differences.

Downey is a fifth-year senior, while Wall is a freshman playing what probably will be his only year of college. Downey is a 5-foot-9 player who is a scorer, averaging 31.6 points in five SEC games. The 6-foot-4 Wall, a bigger guard in the mold of Derrick Rose, is averaging more than six assists a game.

Wall has the hype - the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks ago and increasing buzz surrounding his candidacy for national player of the year.

Downey still lacks that kind of recognition, despite being a two-time first-team All-SEC player. Tonight's game on ESPN could help change that.

"A lot of people in the country probably haven't seen him," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "They need to pull out the last five games and take a look at what he's done."

Auburn is the only team that has faced both Wall and Downey this season, losing to both teams. Lebo said the two players are different, with Wall being bigger and having a better "surrounding cast." But that's not meant to shortchange Downey.

"Downey right now, he's willing them by himself, putting them in position, either winning the game by himself when everybody knows he's getting the ball, and he's doing it, which is incredible," Lebo said.

"The plays he made at the end of the (Florida) game were ridiculous. ... I know how those pro coaches feel trying to guard a Kobe or a Lebron, because he's playing like a college (version) right now."

Mississippi's Andy Kennedy coached Downey his first season, when both were at Cincinnati.

"I think most basketball people know about Devan Downey. He has had a tremendous career. He is playing lights out right now," Kennedy said. "It should be an intriguing matchup. John Wall has been better than advertised. I will be interested to see the matchup."

Plenty will - even if Downey isn't among them.

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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