Leading scorer Downey to return
The SEC, understandably ripped last March for not having a top seed and only three total teams in the NCAA tournament, continues to get good news with another high-profile conference player withdrawing from the NBA draft.
Saturday, the latest to say he's coming back is South Carolina's leading scorer, junior guard Devan Downey. South Carolina coach Darrin Horn told ESPN.com Saturday afternoon that Downey had sent in the paperwork to the NBA announcing he was withdrawing, less than 48 hours before Monday's 5 p.m. EST deadline.
Downey, who averaged 19.8 points a games and a team-high 4.5 assists, is the second Gamecock player in a week to withdraw, preceded by forward Dominique Archie. Throughout the last month, potential all-SEC players Patrick Patterson (Kentucky), Tasmin Mitchell (LSU), Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State), Tyler Smith (Tennessee) and Michael Washington (Arkansas) have all withdrawn from the draft. Kentucky junior guard Jodie Meeks is expected to do the same.
"I think it's great," Horn said of the SEC players returning to school. "We want to be in a league that has those type of players and getting our two guys back will make a big difference."
South Carolina fell a game or two short of earning an at-large berth to the NCAAs. The Gamecocks were 10-6 in the SEC and ended up 21-10 overall after losing to Davidson in the postseason NIT's first round.
South Carolina returns center Mike Holmes (10.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and backup Sam Muldrow (5.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) to help offer even more balance for the Gamecocks next season. Horn said he expects incoming freshman forward Lakeem Jackson to have an impact, too.
"We have a chance, no question," Horn said of competing with Kentucky and Tennessee, the likely frontrunners ahead of South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt in the SEC East. "But we've got a lot of work to do."
Downey worked out well for a number of teams and had a shot to be a second-round pick had he stayed in the draft. With the dearth of point guards in this draft, Downey has a shot to climb higher in the 2010 draft. Downey started his career at Cincinnati before transferring to South Carolina.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.