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June 23, 2009Devan Downey plans to watch the NBA Draft, but won't be regretting his choice or musing where he would have landed had he kept his name in the pool of eligible picks.
He's completely happy with his decision.
"I love the university, I love the teammates, my coaches, the fans ... I think sometimes people look at it like coming back is like a bad thing," South Carolina's point guard said on Monday, his first public media gathering since withdrawing from the draft 10 days ago. "It's a good thing. You talk about the future or financially, sometimes you have to make the best decision for yourself.
"(I was projected) second, late-second, first, but I got enough feedback from the correct people to know the best decision for me was to go back to school."
Downey had already been in college for four full years and was a few credits short of graduating when he put his name in. He figured he'd work out for any NBA teams that would have him and listen to what coach Darrin Horn and NBA personnel could tell him about his draft chances.
After a late workout in Milwaukee, the weekend before the deadline to withdraw, Downey heard his final projection. He wasn't going to chance it.
"I wasn't going to roll the dice," he said. "I had told coach if I was projected at this number or above, I was going."
He wasn't and didn't stay in, making Gamecock Nation erupt while Horn knew he wouldn't have to replace his best player after only a year.
"Does it help to have Devan? Sure, it helps to have Devan," Horn asked and answered. "He's been in it for a long time now. I think he's the best point guard in the country -- I don't know how he felt about it.
"He can flat-out play and has done it against the best competition in the country, which are the same people that end up playing in the NBA, so I'm kind of excited about this year with him."
He's not the only one. Downey's 19.8 points per game last year makes him the SEC's leading returning scorer, meaning he'll probably get some votes for SEC Preseason Player of the Year and he should be a lock for the preseason All-SEC first team, a spot he's earned in each of the past two years. Speaking strictly of USC, Downey stands to depart the school as its all-time steals leader and among the top five in career points, despite only playing three years.
The best part is Horn's plan of building for the future can be carried out. Having Downey around not only means the Gamecocks return another experienced starter, but Horn can draw on Downey's talents to teach his new players. Incoming guard Ramon Galloway, a combo guard, can have a year under the tutelage of one of the best (the best?) guards in the league instead of having to learn on the fly in what's expected to a much-improved SEC.
"I talked to him a few times; just waiting to get him on campus," Downey said, praising the freshman although he didn't want to put too much pressure on him by hoping he'll be another Zam Fredrick. "Both of us at the point guard spot, I can show him a little something. The better he plays, the better the team can be."
The decision's out of the way and Downey can begin concentrating on his summer goals -- encouraging the rest of the players to hit the weights, track and gym to get ready for the season. He said he plans to do it by doing it himself and letting others follow his example.
He'll finish his degree in African-American studies either in December or the spring -- he's debating whether or not to finish early and take a semester of graduate studies or just have one class to complete as he winds down his final season. Downey's excited about what the future holds for his teammates and for the rest of the league -- the Gamecocks proved they belonged last year and if they want to keep that perch, they'll have to deal with increased expectations.
"I'm not going to see we're going to do this or do that but if everybody prepares and trains well in the offseason, good things will happen," he said.
Yes, he'll watch Thursday's draft.
But not with a wistful expression, thinking what might have been.
"I'm going to watch it," Downey said, "and use it to just have a better season this year. There's always motivation."