College Sports

USC kicks off season

COLUMBIA -- Devan Downey's first game as a South Carolina Gamecock was impressive, the sophomore scoring 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting with seven steals in 31 minutes.

But that was just an exhibition against Guilford. The real test begins tonight.

"I went out and played like it was a real game," Downey said. "I want to do the same thing (tonight)."

If he does, and the Gamecocks win, it'll be much more than a 1-0 start. It'll be the start of what could be a three-year run of Downey taking over the leadership role.

He was doing it against Guilford, turning to the bench during the game and screaming to play harder. He was also going to his teammates during timeouts and telling them to quit lagging, even if the game was a cruiser.

"A few players were just going through the motions, taking the competition lightly," Downey said. "I was just telling them, 'This game means something.' If we're going to compete in the SEC, we've got to play every night."

Throughout coach Dave Odom's previous six years at USC, he's always depended on one guy to be the team mouthpiece. Michael Boynton handed off to Carlos Powell, who turned to Tarence Kinsey, who relinquished the role to Tré Kelley.

Downey appears to have already taken the reins for this year. Odom had no problem with it.

"I think you'll find that early on, because basically he'll have the ball in his hands," Odom said. "What we hope is that over the course of November and December, that we find out who is most capable of helping him in difficult situations."

That process, as well as the art of finding a cohesive team for the next 31 (at least) games, also begins. USC hosts S.C. State in its season-opener, facing a lot of issues.

The Gamecocks should start the same lineup against the Bulldogs as they did against Guilford. Downey, Zam Fredrick, Brandis Raley-Ross, Mike Holmes and Dominique Archie should take the floor, but then Odom's got to start answering questions.

How much should the rest of the lauded freshman class play? Holmes had a star-in-the-making turn against Guilford with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but can he do it for a whole season against Division I competition? How much will Dwayne Day, the team's only senior, step up? Is the team going to raise its shoddy rebounding -- last in the SEC in rebounding margin last year, and out-grabbed 46-43 by the Division III Quakers -- in time?

Odom said he won't be looking for immediate answers tonight, but the last question is a doozy. As something that will definitely have to be improved for the Gamecocks to win, Odom wasn't displeased with the total against Guilford but he wasn't leaping for joy, either.

"Anytime you're a running, trapping team, you're not going to be man-on-man to block out," Odom pointed out. "I'm more concerned about muscle rebounds that we don't get. In other words, the post guy inside just goes up our back."

But it's all part of the journey. S.C. State should offer a solid challenge and give the Gamecocks a hint of what they'll have to focus on the most, before Game 2 (hosting The Citadel on Monday) rolls around.

As for Downey, the Chester native who spent his first year at Cincinnati, he's just happy to be playing in front of his family and friends again. The Guilford game had around 80 of Downey's acquaintances camped at midcourt, cheering and waving newspaper pictures of him, and Downey said he expects around 200 tonight.

"They got a football game Friday, and they were talking about cancelling the football game until Saturday so people could come up and support me," Downey grinned, referring to Chester High School's home playoff game against Fairfield Central tonight. "It was just so good to see people come and support me, which they weren't able to do when I was at Cincinnati.

"I can't tell you, I was just so happy, doing what I love to do ... I can't tell you how excited I was."

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