It’s still mind-boggling that Devan Downey left South Carolina as its fourth-leading career scorer. He had 1,901 points in three seasons despite being the shortest man on the court and every opponent knowing he was going to get the ball.
It’s more mind-boggling that for at least one more season, we’ll attend games at Colonial Life Arena and not see Downey’s number in the rafters.
USC updated its roster last week and newcomer Hassani Gravett will wear No. 2 this season. With all due respect to Gravett, that number should have been kept vacant, as it should have been since Downey played his final game.
This is not meant to scorn any coach or administrator. They probably haven’t thought about it, as it takes a long process for number retirement to be approved. USC hasn’t retired a number since 2005 and No. 2 was issued the year after Downey left.
It’s been given out three times, in fact. Before Gravett, Brian Richardson wore it for three seasons and Raymond Doby for one. Also since Downey left No. 2 behind, the Gamecocks have gone through a change in coach and athletics director.
In my opinion, Downey’s number should have been retired the second the mandatory five-year waiting period was up. That was in March 2015, if we’re going by when he played his last game, or May 2015, if we’re going by five years from his graduation.
He more than fits the criteria. He has his USC degree. He is a school career record-holder (277 steals) and was a consensus three-time first-team all-conference selection.
Downey also played his rear end off for three years and didn’t get much in return. The Gamecocks had two losing seasons over his era (which also had a coaching change) and fell short of the 2009 NCAA tournament when 20-plus wins and double-digit SEC victories weren’t deemed good enough (where have I heard that before?) Considering he still finished fourth on the scoring chart, nine points from No. 3 and 71 from No. 2, his accomplishments more than merit the honor.
The Gamecocks’ top three career scorers (BJ McKie, Alex English, John Roche) have their numbers retired. Ditto for Grady Wallace (11th) and Kevin Joyce (15th). Wallace is 11th despite only playing two seasons, and Joyce, like Downey, Roche and Art Whisnant above him, got his points over three seasons.
It’s a tricky subject, retiring numbers, because there are so many different schools of thought. John Wooden didn’t believe in it, citing the players who wore that number before the potential honoree. UCLA has since retired 10 numbers, seven for Wooden-era stars.
Then there’s Duke, which has retired 13 numbers. That becomes a problem when college basketball only allows 36 jersey numbers and there are at least 13 players to dress each season.
Some longtime USC fans have mentioned they’d like to see a couple of others retired – Jimmy Foster and Tom Owens. Foster is fifth in career points and rebounds, while Owens is 20th and second. Each would be ideal candidates.
As would be Downey, who like the stars before him, left everything he had on the court. Many of the others have a marker of themselves watching over every team after theirs.
Devan Downey deserves the same.
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The five USC players who have had their jerseys retired:
Averaged 28 points per game and led the nation with 31.3 ppg in 1957.
Made one or more All-American teams in each of his three seasons.
Scored 1,400 points over three seasons; later a member of 1972 Olympic team.
Consensus All-American and second all-time in scoring with 1,972 points.
Finished career as the all-time USC scoring leader with 2,119 points.