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10 most intriguing people in USC sports

STEVE SPURRIER, Football coach

If you know USC football coach Steve Spurrier, you know that right after football and family he loves golf. You might not know just how much, though — or how, as in football, he loves winning and hates losing.

At the 2007 Verizon Heritage, Spurrier competed in the pro-am with PGA Tour player and friend Chris DiMarco, a former Florida golfer. At the short par-4 ninth hole, the coach blasted his sand shot to five feet and, with a crowd watching, sank the par putt — for a net birdie — to give his team the apparent victory.

“Coach is high-fiving, signing autographs, and afterward we’re having a beverage” in the clubhouse, said Chip Prezioso, a Columbia businessman who plays often with Spurrier. “He thinks we’ve won. Then (former tennis star) Stan Smith’s group goes eagle-birdie the last two holes to beat us by a shot.

“Coach grabs his cell phone, says, ‘We’re getting out of here.’ In the car, he’s still fuming about losing. Finally, I said, ‘Coach, you know what I love about you? You can’t tell by looking if you’re winning or losing.’ ”

Even Spurrier had to laugh at that.

The Ball Coach got the last laugh this spring when he teamed with former football All-American Sterling Sharpe to win the Chick-fil-A Bowl Alma Mater at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga. Playing against coaches and alumni from other colleges, Sharpe hit 300-yard drives and watched Spurrier sink crucial putts en route to a five-shot win.

“Steve attacks golf as he does life,” Sharpe said. “He doesn’t have the practice time to devote to the game, but he has an unmatched determination to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes.”

Naturally. In golf, that’s the definition of winning.

— Bob Gillespie

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MAC CREDILLE, Men’s basketball equipment manager

In 1974, Mac Credille was working at USC’s physical education center and was as happy as he figured he could be. Then some friends told him to go over and help the football team. He did, and soon after, coach Jim Carlen told Credille he wasn’t going back to the P.E. center, that he was staying with the football team.

Nervously, Credille pointed out that “Coach, football coaches don’t last here very long.” Instead of snapping at him, Carlen liked that Credille was thinking about his future.

Credille became the basketball equipment manager in 1993, when coach Steve Newton was on the verge of being fired. Since then, Credille has been around through Newton’s exit, Bobby Cremins’ flip-flop, the highs and lows of the Eddie Fogler and Dave Odom eras and now the transition to Darrin Horn.

Every story leads to another story: the coaches who didn’t get along with their bosses; how the football coaches used to major in physical education, until that department was ramped up; the three days of Cremins’ tenure, and how Credille wasn’t surprised it ended.

“That’s the scary thing – everybody knows me. And I can’t remember people’s names. And that’s the bad sign,” Credille said. “This job is so much fun. You get to know people.”

— Seth Emerson

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BRIONNA DICKERSON, Women's basketball guard

Brionna Dickerson has seen the world without leaving home.

The former Heathwood Hall star stayed in Columbia to play basketball for South Carolina, where she started 26 games last season as a junior.

But the 5-foot-9 guard has developed more than a jump shot at USC. With a double major of international business and marketing in the university’s Honors College, Dickerson speaks fluent Spanish and views travel as a way to broaden her horizons.

The 21-year-old Dickerson will spend July studying in Costa Rica, which she also visited as a high school senior.

Dickerson was a reluctant traveler until her first plane trip — a nine-hour flight to Ireland for a basketball camp when she was 13. Though getting there was “horrible,” Dickerson had a different perspective once she was safely on the ground.

“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” said Dickerson, who kept a journal of the more than two-week trip. “That motivated me to get a job that’s going to have me travel, because that was just the best thing I ever experienced.”

— Joseph Person

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DEVAN DOWNEY, Basketball guard

Devan Downey’s personality is the same on and off the court: He talks as fast as he dribbles and is as emotional with friends as he is with teammates (and opponents, referees, fans, coaches).

Downey always is making his presence known, whether it’s socially or on the basketball court.

South Carolina’s best basketball player has made that – not his lack of size – the focus of his game.

It’s always been that way for the 5-foot-9 Downey, an All-SEC first-team point guard in his first season at USC. He had to prove himself in middle school, when the big kids wouldn’t let him play with them. It was that way at Chester High School and the University of Cincinnati when opponents would overlook him because of his height.

By the time he arrived at USC, the doubters were few. He still surpassed expectations this past season, becoming the heart of the Gamecocks. During a tough season for the team, Downey led the SEC in steals, ranked second in assists and was third in scoring.

“I try to work harder than my opponent,” Downey said. “I’m not going to brag on myself, but I’m in the gym every day, just trying to be better than the next person. So the things that I do on the court, it doesn’t surprise me because I feel like I’ve earned the right during the offseason and during my free time to do what I do.”

— Seth Emerson

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CHARLES WADDELL, Associate Athletics Director

Charles Waddell has a spot in the North Carolina record books that might never be equaled – evidence of Waddell’s athletic ability and the era in which he competed.

Waddell, a South Carolina associate athletics director, is the Tar Heels’ last three-sport letterman, a distinction that has gone the way of the cassette tape in this age of elite travel teams and AAU tournaments that encourage athletes to specialize in a single sport at a young age.

“They don’t have the opportunity like I did,” Waddell said. “It was difficult for me, but it’s almost impossible now to do it unless you really have support of all the head coaches.”

The 55-year-old Waddell grew up in Southern Pines, N.C., and was an All-ACC performer in football (tight end) and track (shot put) and a backup forward under legendary UNC coach Dean Smith.

– Joseph Person

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JAMES DARNELL, Baseball third baseman

Three years ago, James Darnell arrived at USC from northern California. He quickly erased any notion that he was a surfer-dude type.

He’s the consummate All-American – and not just as a baseball player. Polite, unassuming, always smiling . . . the list could go on. Darnell fits the image of the guy every parent wants his or her daughter to bring home.

When USC held its spring banquet at the Colonial Center, Darnell was chosen to give the invocation.

He was usually among the last to leave Sarge Frye Field, signing autographs or talking to fans. He has been USC’s version of Cal Ripken.

By the way, he’s an All-SEC third baseman whom major league scouts expect to have a long pro career.

And his coach, Ray Tanner, called Darnell a “zero maintenance” player.

“My little one is tiny, but yeah, I’d like for him to follow James around,” Tanner said of his toddler son. “I guess you have to go back and say mom and dad, they crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s. If you can find someone to say anything bad about James Darnell, you’re reaching.”

— Seth Emerson

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ANA MARIJA ZUBORI, Tennis player

She considers herself a Serbian; she was born and spent the first 12 years of her life in the country. She has a French passport and played for the French national tennis team. And now she goes to South Carolina, where she’s the star of the tennis team.

Obviously, Ana Marija Zubori has quite the eclectic background.

The sophomore’s travels also left her with an interesting memento. She was raised in the same Serbian town as Monica Seles, but the two didn’t meet until the final match of Seles’ career, at the 2003 French Open. Zubori said she asked her idol for a “wristband or something,” but Seles opted for more, giving Zubori the outfit she wore in her final match. Zubori wore it that day, even though it wasn’t clean.

“And then I put it away, and I’ve never washed it,” Zubori said.

Zubori left Serbia in 1999, three months before NATO’s bombing campaign began, to live with her sister in France.

She came to South Carolina two years ago, recruited by USC assistant Katarina Petrovic, another Serbian native.

“I think it’s a great experience, and I’d suggest to anybody to try it,” Zubori said of college. “Not only in tennis, but also in everyday life. We’re living all together. I wish it could last longer than four years, because when I think I only have two more years, it’s kinda sad. I hear people say it’s a great period in your life in college, and I believe it.”

— Seth Emerson

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JASON RICHARDSON, Track hurdler

Jason Richardson is like a lot of college students trying to figure things out. The USC hurdler goes from feeling confident and cocky one day to questioning his self-assurance the next.

The difference between Richardson and many of his peers is that Richardson is willing to share his conflicting emotions and deep, soulsearching thoughts on a blog for all the World Wide Web to see.

Richardson, who graduated from USC in May with a degree in sport and entertainment management, writes a popular blog on the track and field Web site Trackshark.com.

Richardson, a Texas native who was runner-up in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Indoor Championships, provides readers an interesting perspective from a major college athlete and takes on topics ranging from religion and socio-economic stereotypes to air-travel decorum and '80s music.

“I think it’s really important that people get into the heads of athletes. It’s not all about the things we put up on the scoreboard or the things we do in the lane,” Richardson said. “We’re still people. We still go through a lot of the normal emotions that a lot of people go through. That’s one of the things on the blog that I wanted to do: making sure I let people know I am human.

“I have good times. I have bad times. But at the end of the day, I’m so much like everybody else; I just play a sport.”

Richardson has one season of eligibility remaining but is considering turning pro. He also might go to Stanford for graduate school and envisions opening a financial advising firm designed specifically for athletes.

“Athletics has given me a great opportunity. And I feel like I owe it to athletics to contribute back.”

– Joseph Person

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RYAN SUCCOP, Football kicker

Ryan Succop will graduate from USC in May with degrees in finance and management – and he hopes it will be years before he has to use either of them.

The Gamecocks’ do-it-all kicker hopes his right leg carries him to a long and successful NFL career. But the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Succop might have been preparing for a different pro league had he not decided to bank on his football fortunes at Hickory (N.C.) High. Several schools recruited Succop to play golf and soccer.

Succop remains a scratch golfer and teed it up in April with Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier at the University Club, where Spurrier informed Succop that he never had lost to one of his current players.

Despite a three-month winter layoff and a double-bogey on the par-3 17th hole, Succop shot a respectable 78 – one stroke behind his uber-competitive coach.

“He made me putt everything out,” Succop said.

It is not the first time Succop has golfed with a famous sports figure. He played a round with former NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett, who also is from Hickory.

Succop said he always will remember his day with Spurrier, regardless of the outcome.

“We had a good time, and it was a great opportunity,” he said.

– Joseph Person

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EMILY WHITE, Administrative Assistant to Athletics Director

Searching for a job after her former employer moved, Emily White applied to the University of South Carolina personnel office. The athletics department had an open position, she interviewed, and the rest is history.

Forty-one years later, she remains administrative assistant to the athletics director. From Paul Dietzel to Eric Hyman, she has served under nine ADs.

She has been there through the good times and bad, fielding calls from happy fans and irate ones.

George Rogers’ winning the Heisman Trophy, the men’s basketball team’s ACC championship and the baseball team’s second-place finishes in the College World Series rank among her favorite memories.

She could do without the ugly calls after the basketball team’s loss to Coppin State in the NCAA tournament. The worst, though, came after King Dixon refused to lease the stadium for a Rolling Stones concert.

“They love us when we’re winning,” she says. “In 1984, they loved the football team — until the Navy game.”

Her favorite person: the late Sarge Frye.

Mac Credille, who has been at USC since 1974, says, “There is no one more important in the athletic department than Emily White. She is the glue that holds it together.”

Most would agree, including the former athletics directors who came to town last year to join in the celebration of her 40th anniversary in the department.

— Bob Spear

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