Sports

Downey, former coach Kennedy set to reunite

It'll be a family reunion of sorts when South Carolina travels to Ole Miss on Saturday.

Gamecocks guard Devan Downey, who transferred from Cincinnati two years ago, will play against his former coach. Andy Kennedy, who took over the Bearcats during Downey's freshman year when Bob Huggins was fired, is in his second year with the Rebels.

The two saw each other last year in Columbia, but Downey was sitting out due to his mandatory one-year transfer absence. This time, Kennedy will have to find a way to stop his former point guard, who's leading the SEC in scoring and the nation in steals.

But the feelings the two have for each other will still be evident.

"What he and I went through together ... he was a freshman and I was a rookie interim coach, under not the best of circumstances," Kennedy said Thursday. "Something I'll remember forever. I look at him almost like a proud father."

Downey said he'd stay at Cincinnati if Kennedy were made the full-time coach, but the Bearcats hired Murray State's Mick Cronin instead. Kennedy was hired at Ole Miss and Downey visited the campus, but decided soon after he wanted to play at USC.

"I never once questioned that," Kennedy said. "Proud that it's working out for him."

"He certainly didn't choose me over Andy Kennedy," USC coach Dave Odom said. "I think he just simply wanted to come home."

The Gamecocks (10-10, 2-4 SEC) got their first win since Odom announced his retirement two weeks ago vs. Georgia on Wednesday. The No. 24 Rebels (16-3, 3-3) rebounded from a drubbing at Mississippi State to beat No. 19 Vanderbilt 74-58 the same day. Their game tips at 5 p.m.

• CLEARING IT UP: Downey's stats are generating a lot of heat on the watch lists for postseason awards. While his sophomore status does not qualify him for the SEC Freshman of the Year award, he is eligible for the SEC Newcomer of the Year award.

The league's coaches vote on the SEC Freshman of the Year and can only vote for freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The Associated Press votes on the Newcomer of the Year, open to freshmen and players who have transferred into the SEC.

• THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN: Vanderbilt shot to a school-record 17-0 start before its first loss and checked in with a No. 19 national ranking this week. That was after an 86-64 hammering against Florida that got the Gators back in the rankings (No. 20).

Then the Commodores (17-4, 2-4) were ripped by Ole Miss two days ago, 74-58.

"We'll certainly be glad to get back home," coach Kevin Stallings said. "We've not played very well on the road."

Vandy's not getting what it needs from anybody, but a big reason for the lapse is Shan Foster. The conference's former leading scorer (19.5 points per game), has only scored 21 combined over his last two games.

• REUNION PART II: Florida (17-3, 5-1) visits Arkansas (15-5, 4-2) Saturday for another catch-up session.

Gators coach Billy Donovan is very familiar with Razorbacks counterpart John Pelphrey. As an assistant coach at Kentucky, Donovan coached Pelphrey from 1989-92. He hired Pelphrey as an assistant coach at Marshall in 1995 and as a Florida assistant from 1997-2002.

"He's one of the closest people to me in my life," Donovan said. "Our relationship is a very, very close one."

Picked to win the SEC West in his first year, Pelphrey's Hogs started slowly but have come on of late, knocking Mississippi State (14-6, 5-1) out of a perfect SEC start in their last game.

Donovan said he doesn't try to impart much basketball advice to Pelphrey or his other former assistants unless they ask for it. Pelphrey credited Donovan with teaching him about not just the game, but recruiting and organizing as a head coach.

"Billy has probably been the most influential male in my life, other than my father," Pelphrey said. "As a coach, he basically raised me."

• RETURNING TO THE SCENE: Auburn (12-7, 2-4) heads to Vanderbilt on Saturday, giving Tigers coach Jeff Lebo a trip to a gym he loved and hated.

As a guard for No. 1 North Carolina on Dec. 5, 1987, Lebo was on the court when Vanderbilt shocked the Tar Heels 78-76. Lebo patched the sour memory up enough to serve as a Vandy assistant in 1993, under former coach (and another ex-Heel) Eddie Fogler.

Asked to speak about Memorial Gym's unusual court (the benches are on the ends of the court, not the sidelines), Lebo mentioned the need for good communication.

"You have to be a good whistler," Lebo quipped. "I think one of the first things that they look at when they hire a new coach is if they're a good whistler. Eddie was a good stomper ... you could feel the vibrations all the way down the court."

• ON THE MEND: Auburn center Boubacar Sylla will sit out the rest of the season and apply for a medical redshirt. The 7-foot-1 Sylla has been hobbled by a foot injury and has only played spare minutes in three games.

• HE SAID IT: "I thought he was Pete Maravich there, for a while."

-- LSU coach John Brady, on guard Marcus Thornton's career-high 38 points against Auburn.

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