COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Darrin Horn is happy to have starters Devan Downey and Dominique Archie back on the team.
Horn spoke about his two returning juniors for the first time Monday since they decided to come back to school and pull their names from the NBA draft. Both took part in pro workouts to gain feedback on what they'll need at the next level.
Their choices bolster Horn's efforts to rebuild the Gamecocks, who earned a share of the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division crown last season in the coach's first year.
But Horn, the former Tates Creek High star who came to South Carolina from Western Kentucky, said he would have demanded just as much from his club next fall if he were left trying to make up for Downey and Archie's production.
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"Sure it's a relief to have kids that you care about, that you like, that are good players, that you want to be a part of your program back," Horn said. "At the same time, now we have challenges."
"How are we going to use them? Now, that we have those guys and we can be pretty good, how can we best utilize them," he said. "What are the challenges that come along with that."
It's difficult to find a downside for Downey and Archie's return.
Downey will be the Southeastern Conference's top returning scorer (19.8 points a game) next season, while the 6-foot-7 Archie (10.9 points, 6.4 rebounds) should be one of the league's most versatile forwards.
Without them, Horn's Gamecocks would have been in full-blown rebuilding mode. Now, South Carolina could be a pre-season top 25 pick with strong expectations of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
"The sky's the limit," Downey said.
Downey, who will be a fifth-year senior, said he learned a lot, took his time and was happy to come back to school. "I think sometimes people look at coming back as a bad thing," Downey said. "Honestly, I think it's a good thing."
Downey said his inclination from the start was to come back. "But when you're talking about your future, financially, you've got to make the best decision for yourself," he said.
Archie said he, too, went through the process to educate himself about the NBA and the draft. "I got a lot of information, not all of it good but all helpful," Archie said.
Downey said he heard almost everything about his draft prospects from late first round to anywhere in the second to not getting drafted at all. He said one last year of college should increase his value — as long as South Carolina wins games.
He and Archie say they'll do what they must to ensure that happens.
"It's all going to be about hard work," Archie said.
That suits Horn, who still has questions to answer in his second season. The Gamecocks (21-10) went 10-6 in the SEC, their best mark in 11 years. They didn't make the NCAAs, though, in part because of the perception that the league was much weaker than it had been in the past.
Horn must find someone to pick up the 15-points a game South Carolina got from departing senior Zam Fredrick. And though senior guard Branden Conrad was injured most of the season, he was a steadying influence for younger Gamecocks.
Plus, Horn said several SEC stars like Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado and Tennessee's Tyler Smith also pulled their names from the draft and will have a similar impact on their clubs.
"It's good to have those guys back, but let's not get sucked into, 'All of a sudden we're going to be really good,' " Horn said. "Because we lost a couple of really tough kids that meant a lot to our program."