Seniors taking lessons into 09-10 season
Devan Downey told members of the media on Monday that he made the decision to return for his senior year at South Carolina following his last workout for an NBA team. It had become clear that while he had the eyes of professional teams, Downey was most likely going to be passed over in the NBA Draft.
But despite not going pro, the learning experience has not been lost on Downey or fellow senior Dominique Archie. Both players are planning to use the advice and lessons they learned over the course of the evaluation process during the coming season.
"I just found out there is always something to work on. Things you think you do well, different teams tell you that you probably can do better," Downey said. "The thing I came out with is there is always something to work on. You should be working on your craft every day."
Both players worked out for numerous teams after throwing their names in the draft pool following the end of the season for USC. While they were both selected to All-SEC teams, neither player was a clear-cut choice for the NBA Draft.
Rumors had spread that the pair was considering a move to Europe to play overseas, but both players made clear that there was no such talk. Archie said he never considered playing in Europe and had not heard talk from overseas about the chance he could. After Downey's former high school coach told media outlets he was talking with teams across the pond, Downey made sure to emphasize he had not considered Europe as an option.
"He said that? I mean 'cause I never said that. I heard a whole lot of overseas talk, but it never came out of my mouth. So I was just curious where all that came from," Downey said. "People were trying to get in contact with me, but I never said anything, I never entertained it. The whole deal about me possibly going over there, I really don't know where that came from. I never told anybody close to me that."
With the return of both players, the Gamecocks go from a team that could have been in a rebuilding process to a squad that should be expected to contend for the top of the SEC Eastern Division. Downey and Archie are regarded as two of the best players at their respective positions in the country. Their talent is something that coach Darrin Horn is looking forward to coaching for another season.
"We're fortunate that they're coming back, but I think that in addition to getting good players back that are producers, I think the more important thing is you get fifth-year seniors back," Horn said. "I said that from day one when this process first started. Do you replace talents like that? Not right away. Definitely not in the summertime. Maybe not specifically like them, but the bigger thing is they're talents that have been through it and know what it's all about, and to me that's the biggest plus of getting them back."
After reviewing all the things from the workout process, Horn and the players both determined that the best route for each of them would be a return to school with the chance to hone their skills in the SEC one more season. Horn said teams like both players athleticism, toughness and versatility but put a premium on improved shooting as they work next season.
While the players will focus on winning as a team and improving individually, Horn is now focused on what to do with the returning talent next season. Though a departure would have been a tough obstacle, Horn points out that their return does not mean everything is perfect.
"It's a different set of challenges. Sure it's a relief to have two kids that you care about, that are good players, that you like, that you want to be a part of your program back. And at the same time, now we have challenges. No, we don't have to worry about who's starting. We know we have two starters in two slots somewhere, but OK how are we going to use them?," Horn said. "And now that we have those guys and we feel like we have a chance to be very good, how are we going to best utilize that and what are the challenges that come with that? It's really sort of a different set of challenges. If I had to pick one or the other, I'd pick the one I have now for sure."
During the process of being evaluated, Downey and Archie were in contact with each other and even had two workouts together. Both players say they made the decision to return on their own and that the other's choice had little impact on what they were going to do.
"We talked to each other but not to persuade each other to do this or do that. We basically let each other make our own decision," Archie said.
With their return to Columbia, both players realize the expectations that will be placed on the Gamecocks in the coming season. After being predicted to fifth in the East last year, Carolina roared to a 21-10 record and a tie for first place in the division. Despite a 10-6 SEC record, USC was left out of the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight season and lost in the opening round of the NIT to Davidson.
But with the return of the fifth-year seniors, the Gamecocks are now a team ready and in position to contend - a challenge they're ready for.
"I think we can be pretty special if we work hard enough and do the things we've got to do on and off the court. I think we can be a very special team," Archie said.
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