Kennedy was the interim head coach at Cincinnati two seasons ago when Downey was a freshman guard for the Bearcats. When Bob Huggins was released as head coach prior to that season, both their lives had changed. By season's end, they had 21 wins together and an NIT berth.
But they were both headed out of Cincy. Kennedy got the Ole Miss job. Downey thought about joining him here. He chose instead to head back home to his native South Carolina. He sat out last season, and this season he has been as productive as any point guard in the country.
Downey leads the nation with 3.4 steals per game. He leads the team with 19.6 points per game overall and 21.8 ppg in SEC games. He is second in both categories overall in the SEC. He is second in minutes played in the SEC and third in assists.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore from Chester, S.C., was the first Gamecock player to score 20-plus points in five straight games since USC joined the SEC (1991) and even more impressive is the fact that he did it in his five first-ever SEC games. He scored 22 at No. 12 Vanderbilt, 24 vs. No. 8 Tennessee, 28 at Arkansas, 24 vs. Florida and 24 at Kentucky.
His streak was stopped in the Gamecocks' 62-56 win Wednesday night over Georgia when he scored nine points, his first game in the garnet and black not scoring 10-plus points. He has started every game since sitting last season out after transferring. He had been named to the All-Big East Conference Freshman team at Cincy.
Kennedy said seeing Downey again will be, among other things, interesting.
"I love the kid. Because of what we went through that year, with me being a first-year interim head coach and with him being a freshman point guard, we certainly learned a lot together. He was a major catalyst for that team, and also a lot of my philosophy as a coach. Prior to coaching him (because of his small size) and seeing that he could be successful, I would never have had the confidence to go recruit Chris Warren."
Downey, a Bob Cousy Award candidate presented to the nation's best college point guard, is brimming with confidence.
"I'm a tough player. I play with passion, play hard and I am very competitive," said Downey in a press release from USC. "After playing someone, I want my opponent to say he's way better in person than he looks on tape.
"I am the team leader," Downey continued. "Right now for me it's all about being a leader for my team. I know what I'm capable of. But good things happen when you go out and try to win. Right now we are 10-10. I'll do whatever I feel like the team needs me to do. That's what I'll do. To win more games, everyone has to give a little more than they've been giving and that includes me. I have to give a little more on defense and do more all around. I want everyone to do that."
Kennedy said he knows what Downey can do, and he knows his Rebels will have their hands full with him and his team.
"He's the ultimate competitor and a good player, extremely tough," Kennedy said. "He's incredibly strong. He and Chris, even though they are both small, are totally different in their approach. Devan has an unbelievable ability to finish in traffic over size for a guy as small as he is. It's uncanny. Because he's been small his whole life, he releases his shot behind his head, and on every shot he's falling backwards. Because of his mechanics, you can't get to his shot. He's an emotional leader and I'm not surprised at all with his success."
Warren, the Rebels' 5-10, 170, true freshman doesn't have quite the experience of Downey. Yet he's led the Rebels all season and posted some impressive stats himself.
The Orlando, Fla., native said he's looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.
"I've seen him play on TV a few times," Warrren said of Downey. "We're both short and quick. He has more experience. It does excite me to play against him."
But Warren admitted on Thursday that he was more focused on the next game as a whole rather than the matchup itself. Saturday is another opportunity for the Rebels to continue to build a terrific resume' toward March. At 16-3 overall and 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play, Ole Miss wants to get another win before having a week between games – the Rebels play at Arkansas on Sat., Feb. 9.
"We seem to be back to our normal selves," Warren said since the Rebels beat Vandy 74-58 in Oxford after two straight road losses. "The crowd helps us and they bring us energy. We can't lose at home."
Kennedy said despite the Gamecock's 10-10 record and 2-4 conference mark, the Rebels will have to be at their best, even at home.
"South Carolina scares me to death," he said. "They're a good team. They went into Fayetteville and beat Arkansas. They play a lot like Auburn in that they will play five perimeter players. They'll high-ball screen you, and the guy that sets the screen can shoot it. They shoot almost 40 percent from the 3. They're going to zone us the whole game. They'll switch their defense and confuse you.
"Hopefully we've learned from our mistakes of the past, and we have to play to the strengths of our team," Kennedy continued. "Defensively they will create challenges for us."
Kennedy-Downey reunion coming to Tad Smith
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