Devan Downey: A leader to the end

University of South Carolina's Devan Downey celebrates making a basket and drawing a foul against Georgia in the first period at the Colonial Life Arena.
University of South Carolina's Devan Downey celebrates making a basket and drawing a foul against Georgia in the first period at the Colonial Life Arena.

Brandis Raley-Ross first got the Devan Downey treatment four years ago, when both were newcomers to the USC men's basketball team. Downey wasn't playing - he was sitting out as a transfer - but he made clear who was in charge.

"When I first met him, he was a firecracker. He was mean. He had no pity for freshmen," Raley-Ross said. "He kicked our butts, first time playing pickup basketball. He's kicking my butt, yelling at me. I'm like, God, I gotta deal with this guy?"

After four years, a more laid-back Downey and those then-freshmen are going out together tonight. Downey, Raley-Ross, Evka Baniulis, Robert Wilder and Dominique Archie (who hopes to return for another season) will be honored on Senior Night.

But the biggest ovation from the crowd surely will go to the smallest player.

The 5-foot-9 Downey is set to leave USC as one of the best players in program history. The highlights:

- He almost certainly will be a three-time first-team All-SEC pick. The only other Gamecock to do that was BJ McKie.

- He is averaging 26.4 points per game during the SEC season, which is the best mark in league play since LSU's Shaquille O'Neal averaged 27.8 per game in 1991.

- He needs three steals to pass Chuck Eidson (272) and become the program's all-time leader. Downey also leads the nation in steals this season and ranks 13th all time in NCAA Division I history.

- If you count his first season at Cincinnati, Downey ranks fourth all time at USC in points (1,819), field goals made (649), 3-pointers (164) and 3-pointers attempted (479).

Downey was asked Tuesday about his legacy.

"I don't dictate my legacy," Downey said. "The people, whoever make that legacy, you've gotta ask them. I just want to be remembered as someone who laid it out on the floor every time he came out."

The one thing his resume apparently will lack is an NCAA tournament appearance. But his individual highlights have been plenty, as coach Darrin Horn has seen the past two years.

"So many nights he has done so many different things that have been a lot of fun to watch and led to some good things," Horn said. "I don't know that you'll see a guy again, especially at his size, that is as capable of doing the things that he does. It's really been impressive, some of the individual things he's been able to accomplish."

Raley-Ross has seen a change in Downey's demeanor as well. Rather than get in the face of the freshmen as he did four years ago, Downey has been more calm and reasoned.

"I feel like, as a person and as a friend, he's made so many strides off the court," Raley-Ross said.

"In my time here at South Carolina, I've just grown in every aspect of my basketball life," Downey said.

Raley-Ross has lived up to his potential, and perhaps more. He was offered scholarships mostly by mid-major schools, but he has started a few games each season at USC and emerged as the team's second-leading scorer as a senior.

"I look back (at my) freshmen and sophomore years, and I look back at the slumps and ups and downs I had, unsure if I was the right fit here, the mixed emotions I had," Raley-Ross said. "Now I've kind of found my place this year."

Baniulis, a 6-foot-7 forward from Lithuania, has started at least one game each season but lately has come off the bench. Still, he maintained a sunny disposition when asked about his time at USC.

"A lot of ups and downs, and I didn't finish the way I wanted to," Baniulis said. "But I can't have any regrets now; I've got to move forward."

Wilder hasn't played much. He joined the team his sophomore year, as a walk-on, and was placed on scholarship two years ago.

Archie, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in November, will be honored, even as he applies for a sixth year of eligibility. The festivities will start at 6:40 p.m., 20 minutes before tipoff against Alabama.

"The seniors, especially in the two years that we've been here, have done some positive things and laid a good foundation for us to be able to continue to build on," Horn said.

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