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Downey need not apologize at exit

South Carolina's Devan Downey drives the lane against Florida's Vernon Macklin, left, and Kenny Boynton.
South Carolina's Devan Downey drives the lane against Florida's Vernon Macklin, left, and Kenny Boynton.

THE LAST MAN standing, the one who withstood it all at USC, is 5-foot-9. The man who weathered everything thrown at this program the past few seasons, all the bad luck and bad decisions by others, is Devan Downey.

This is the sad fate for the kid from Chester. When he arrived four years ago, Downey was the cherry on top for a resurgent program. He looked around and saw stars. Now, as his career winds to a close, he is all that remains.

Zam Fredrick, the one Downey sat and watched helplessly with for one season, graduated last year with the big dream unfulfilled.

Dominique Archie, who would've been his Scottie Pippen this year, went down on a freakish injury after that dunk in Charleston.

Downey's two AAU teammates, Mike Holmes and Mike Jones, couldn't cut it at school or in the program.

That left Downey. He did what he could, leading his team to wins over a No. 1 team (Kentucky) and perhaps two others (Richmond and Florida) that will be playing in the big tournament. But over the past few weeks the run has screeched to a halt, and when Downey and his fellow seniors are honored on Wednesday, the Gamecocks will be a .500 team overall, and a losing one in the SEC.

As this season has worn on, Downey's public persona has at times been one of defiance. Lately, he seems to have accepted the situation. Like after Saturday's loss to Mississippi State, the fifth straight for the Gamecocks, when he sighed and answered a question about getting up for Wednesday's home finale against Alabama.

"One more home game. One more for the home crowd, for the seniors," Downey said. " Our last time, you know, stepping on that floor. That's enough motivation."

The great point guards at South Carolina have had their great moments. B.J. McKie and Tre' Kelley both had losing senior seasons, but played in NCAA tournaments before that. Downey, barring a miracle run in Nashville, will not.

That shouldn't diminish Downey's accomplishments. Besides, he did have those great moments. The Kentucky game this year, when he outclassed the future No. 1 pick in the draft. The game-winner at Rupp Arena last year. The games (in losing efforts) at Florida when everyone knew he was getting the ball and still couldn't stop him.

We tend to use the NCAAs as the be-all and end-all in college basketball. But you could argue that it was more important for Downey to have that prime-time, nationally televised game against Kentucky, rather than a first-round game, with a 12:20 tip, in which his 12th-seeded team gets trounced by a Big East team. I'm not saying that would have been the fate for a team with Archie and Holmes. We'll never know.

Downey came back to school this year so he could make an NCAA tournament, and boost his NBA chances. He will almost certainly not do the former, and as for the latter, DraftExpress.com has Downey going undrafted in June.

Still, here's the list of people that have seen and praised Downey on national television over the past few months: Magic Johnson, Dick Vitale, Michael Wilbon, seemingly every coach in the SEC and any announcer covering his game. Downey may have given up dollars by not going pro last year, but his senior season will probably make up the difference in the long run.

In today's culture, we sometimes overstate the greatness of current players, especially seniors. But let's not go the other way on Downey: He has been a great player. His number belongs in the rafters of Colonial Life Arena. He may not have ever been able to lead his team to the promised land, but who can honestly say Downey didn't do everything in his power?

A few minutes after Saturday's game, the song playing on the arena loudspeaker was One Republic's "Apologize." The lyrics blared through the arena:

"It's too late ... to apologize ... It's too late ... too late."

It almost seemed aimed at Downey: We're sorry this didn't happen the way you thought. We're sorry you were left pretty much alone. We're sorry so much was asked of you.

The message Wednesday should be a simple thank you. Downey did everything he could, and more. It may end up just being an individual legacy. But what a legacy it is.

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