The Work of Devan Downey
‘It’s always been an uphill battle. I just gotta go prove everybody wrong.’
by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport
University of South Carolina’s star point guard, Devan Downey, may only stand 5-9 in height, but best believe the First Team All-SEC selection takes no shorts—never has, never will. So despite the mountain of doubts he’s had to climb, the former South Carolina Mr. Basketball has proven at every stop that none of the reservations about his size have amounted to a hill of beans. Lead the SEC in scoring? OK. Break the school record for steals to become the all-time leader? Done. Average 22.5 points and 3.5 dimes a contest and go for dolo when key teammates go down with injuries? No problem. Drop 30 on then No. 1-ranked Kentucky and its all-world freshman John Wall for the upset win and plenty of “Not in my house, Potna!” bragging rights? That’s a small thing to a giant.
But as the diminutive yet unstoppable floor general looks to make the leap to the next level, it’s apparent that the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same. Those detractors in the L who only see above 72 inches? Still there. Luckily for the Chester, SC, native, so are fellow sub-6-footers like Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn, Nate Robinson and Aaron Brooks. With all of his success up to this point, Downey knows he’ll still have to show-and-prove in NBA workouts if he wants to hear David Stern call his name on June 24. SLAMonline caught up with the graduating prospect to wax poetic about his enormous perseverance and why, when it comes to his small stature versus his big time play on the NCAA’s biggest stages, the Geto Boys’ Bushwick Bill said it best: Size ain’t shit.
SLAM: The Kentucky game was a huge breakthrough for you as far as national exposure. What was it really like to shock Blue Grass Nation and shine in the spotlight?
Devan Downey: For the game itself, I just told myself that it was a statement game for me. I thought if I could lead my team to a win over the No. 1 team in the nation and play well against four or five predicted lottery picks, I knew I would be looked at in a different way.
SLAM: Have you?
DD: Definitely. Things have died down a little bit since then, but it’s still pretty constant. That game opened a lot of people’s eyes.
SLAM: But you’re used to having to open people’s eyes when it comes to your abilities, right?
DD: Oh, yeah. I’ve been doing that all my life. Seems like every level that I’m about to go to, there’s always a question about my ability. It’s just the same thing every time. I think if I was from a big city, I might have gotten more respect and gotten a bigger window of opportunity as far as coming up. It’s always been an uphill battle. I just gotta go prove everybody wrong.
SLAM: You began your college career with Cincinnati and even made the Big-East All-Rookie team. But then you left Ohio when Bob Huggins bounced and went back home to play for the Gamecocks. What made you change it up?
DD: I chose to go here because my mother is disabled. She has an illness and that doesn’t really allow her to work and travel and things like that so I felt like I’m only going to be in college once and it’s more important for her to be able to have the opportunity to come and see me play every night. And I really wanted to be home, close to my family and close to my Mom. I don’t come from a family with a lot of money so we just don’t have money to jump on planes or ride 10 or 12 hours. So I felt like it was more important to be close than far away.
SLAM: Can you elaborate on your mother’s illness?
DD: My mother has seizures. She recently had surgery so she doesn’t have them as much but it doesn’t allow her to work and drive and things like that because you never know when they’re going to come. So coming up, it’s just one of those things that I had to deal with. My mother is such a strong woman and I think that’s where I get my strength from as far as being a competitor. She used to play ball until she started having seizures so I really don’t take this game for granted because I know at any minute, it can be taken away from you. That’s why I work hard everyday and prepare myself for the love of the game. Because tomorrow is not promised.
SLAM: So that’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from her?
DD: My mother just did a great job of telling me that hard work pays off. That’s why I’m going to get my degree when I leave here. I remember as a young child, I could never go outside without doing my homework and studying. She’s really just been encouraging me the whole way. She’s a single black mother. We grew up in the projects: My Mom, my litter sister and my grandmother. We had four people in a three bedroom, so she’s definitely a survivor, especially considering the circumstances surrounding her illness. She always found a way to provide, so that’s where I draw my strength. No matter what you throw at me, I’m going to find a way to get it done.
SLAM: Speaking of getting it done, you really stepped it up this year in Columbia. And you really stepped it up a notch for the big games. Was that by design?
DD: That’s just a result of how I train. I try to finish strong in games, especially big games. I pride myself on trying to finish strong because at the next level coaches and staff are going to count on you to produce at the end of the game. I just pride myself on staying calm and composed at the end of the game and I feel like I put in the work to be successful and this is the time for it to pay off.
SLAM: Many people feel like you were underpaid in not getting the SEC POY award in favor of John Wall. What are your thoughts on that?
DD: The SEC gives that award to the best player on the team that wins the league, so I really can’t say anything about that. But if it was based on overall body of work, I think there can be an argument for me.
SLAM: Now that your collegiate career is over, it’s time to look to the next level. What’s been the hardest part about hearing from skeptics that you score too much for a point guard?
DD: The hardest part has been to hear those kinds of things when I have to score. That’s what my coaches tell me to do and my teammates look for me to do that, too. I think sometimes I actually get penalized for what I consider to be doing what my team requires. If your coach is relying on you to be the primary scorer, but then in some people’s eyes you shoot too much, what can you do? I look at it differently. If I don’t shoot the ball like I do and do the things that I’m asked to do, then that like me telling my team and my coaches that they’re not really that important and that my future and where I want to go is more important than this team. And it’s not like that. If I’m in a position where I don’t have to score as much, that makes things easier and I could really be out there just playing. But here I am being penalized for doing what I’m asked to do. One thing is, I’m not going to let my individual goals come between me and the team and I felt like if I stopped doing those things and listening to everybody and playing the way people think I need to play, I’m telling my team and coaches that I’m more important than the team.
SLAM: The scoring label has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you score too much. But then on the other hand, there are those who think you won’t be able to score on bigger guys in the League. What are your thoughts on that critique?
DD: I feel like playing in the SEC was very competitive and outside of the SEC, I feel like I go against guys who are considered the top guys and at the end of the day, I’m a handful for those guys. And over the course of my college career, there are a lot of things that my coaches feel have to translate to something. If keep going by my defender and he can’t do anything with me, if he’s considered a lottery pick or first rounder or something like that, that has to translate to the next level. I’m watching a lot of NBA basketball and the big difference is in college, people just stay in the paint on defense and with the three second rule, I feel like that’s going to elevate my game.
SLAM: A lot of people also feel that you have a Napoleon complex. What say you?
DD: I guess. But I have to bring that aggressiveness to the table. If a guy comes in taller than me, I might not be able to dunk it like he can, but I got a mean floater. I’ve been told by people that I have to do things that make them say, “Yeah, he’s 5-9 but this guy can play. You can’t just post him up. He creates havoc on the defensive end.
SLAM: We know all about the rubs against you. What are some of the positives you’re hearing about your game?
DD: Some people think I can just create so much havoc getting into the paint, finding shooters. One of the other positives is that the play of guys like Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn and players like that have made teams value speedy guards who can get up and down the floor and I can do that with the best of them.
SLAM: What parts of your game have you been focusing on improving as you look to workout for teams?
DD: I felt like I got better every year and my stats got better every year in college. I tried to bring something new to the table every year, so I feel like I got better as the years went on. Right now, I’m just shooting the ball and working on my defense.
SLAM: Are you nervous about Draft day?
DD: I’m not really nervous. I really can’t control it. I’m just working everyday to hopefully get my name called. It’s one of my biggest dreams to hear my name called. I know I can’t control that but one thing I can control is how hard I work everyday. I can only control my mindset, I can’t control whether a team picks me. But any team that decides to take me is going to get a hard worker and a team guy. I can’t say that I work harder than everybody, but I just don’t see too many people out working me and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it to the next level.