It had been seen so often that it was hardly a surprise, but watching Devan Downey in the S.C. Pro Am on June 30 was as jaw-dropping an experience as it often was when he was scoring 1,901 points at South Carolina from 2007-10.
The Little Point Guard That Could scored 51 points in 32 minutes, and as usual, said it was no big deal. There was the ball, there was the basket, here was Downey — what else was he supposed to do?
A player with a unique connection to the past three USC coaches — he played for Dave Odom and Darrin Horn, and Frank Martin was an assistant coach when Downey played one year at Cincinnati — Downey has been around this summer while deciding on his professional future. After playing in Romania last season, and playing in Turkey, Croatia and France with a brief stopover in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the NBA Developmental League, Downey is down to two choices for the coming season.
“It’s looking like either France or Germany,” he said recently. “I’m still undecided. I’ll make up my mind in early September sometime, before teams start their training camps.”
Until then, it’s been about reminding Gamecock fans just what was so special about him. Despite never playing in the NCAA tournament, Downey provided nearly as many highlights as he did points.
Martin, who had one year with Downey, wasn’t surprised that he could still play at such a high level.
“Loyal, leader and a winner,” was how Martin described Downey. “It’s personified in who he is. Coach (Bob Huggins) left, he stayed behind. There was a senior point guard and he went out there and evolved into the starting point guard as a true freshman. So then he had four senior starters around him, and he was the voice that led the team.”
Downey recalled the fiery assistant, even though he was a little quieter back then.
“As an assistant, he wasn’t as vocal as the head coach, but you could tell he had it in him,” Downey said. “Frank’s a great coach, he brings a lot of energy. We were lucky to have him.”
Following their one year together, interim coach Andy Kennedy took the top spot at Ole Miss while Huggins, ousted before the season, resurfaced at Kansas State with Martin as an assistant. After debating for a while, Downey pledged to USC.
Martin understood, as badly as he wanted Downey to wear Wildcats purple. He also confirmed what Downey previously said this summer — if Downey would have visited K-State, he would have stayed at K-State.
“If he would have visited, I don’t think there was any question he would have come,” Martin said. “As good a player as he was, as much as we wanted him, we weren’t going to try and utilize our relationship with him to force him into a decision that wasn’t what was deep in his heart. Deep in his heart was to come back and play at home.”
Since then, the two have kept in touch and Downey was elated when Martin was hired at USC.
“I knew he was going to be a great coach, but that soon, to have the success he had (at Kansas State), that was surprising,” Downey said. “It’s so funny, having Frank at Cincinnati and I’m here, but he’s still coaching, and all of a sudden, we meet back up at the end of the day.”
That won’t be the extent of the relationship. Martin is always seeking ways to rekindle enthusiasm for USC basketball, and having a player like Downey so adamant in his passion for it can only help. Downey recorded the introduction to USC’s pre-game video last season, and plans to do it again this season.
In two years, Martin said he will do his best to see Downey recognized in the ultimate tribute. Downey will have waited the requisite five years and be eligible to have his number retired. He fits the criteria, having graduated, holding a career record (steals) and being named first-team All-SEC for each of his three years at USC.
While Downey’s No. 2 was worn by Brian Richardson over the past three seasons, the number has not been assigned this year. After the 2014-15 season, it will be eligible to join five other retired numbers in the rafters of Colonial Life Arena.
“I’m going to fight for it,” Martin said. “I think he connects the past with the present for us here. He does meet criteria, he does stand for winning. He’s one of us.”