Junior guard Joey Downes had been with the Rutgers men's basketball team since 2016. With the season being cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he looks back on his time wearing the scarlet and white. Sharing stories about his teammates and also head coach Steve Pikiell, Downes's account gives an insight into his years with the Knights. Being one of the veterans on a young team, Downes is excited to see what his former teammates have to offer for the 2020-21 season and beyond.
Q: What was it like holding down a locker room with such young players?
A: It was cool. A lot of the young guys were pretty mature, so we didn't have to do too much. Guys like (graduate student forward) Akwasi (Yeboah) and (senior forward) Shaq (Carter) were great leaders for the team as captains. (Junior guard) Geo (Baker) has been a great leader ... I only expect that to get better next year with those guys.
Q: What was the most memorable moment from your senior year?
A: I'd say the last game, the win over Maryland. Final game, senior night, getting a court storm, beating a top 10 team in the country. I'd say Maryland was the best moment.
Q: Do you have a Coach Pikiell story that stands out?
A: Nothing too crazy. In film, he's always making fun of guys and joking with us. He's always just been a funny dude ... When they opened the (RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center) and he gave his speech, it was hilarious. He's just a funny guy, a great guy to be around and definitely the best coach I have ever been around. I'm just lucky to be able to play for him.
Q: Who were some players you idolized growing up? Who's on your NBA Mount Rushmore?
A: I'm a big Celtics fan, so Paul Pierce was someone I idolized. But Steve Nash was the guard I idolized. He was a team player, the way he shared the ball and saw the floor, he was fun to watch. My NBA Mount Rushmore? I'll go with (Michael Jordan), LeBron (James), Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Q: When did your love for basketball come into your life? When did you start playing?
A: When I was really young because I have two older brothers that both love basketball and played basketball growing up. My dad used to coach them, so I would go to their practices and dribble a ball on the side and shoot on the hoops on the side and I would wish and dream to be on the court with them, but I was always too young ... Everything I learned, I learned from my brothers, my dad or watching clips on YouTube, but mostly just being in the gym with them when I was younger.
Q: Outside of basketball, who has been the biggest influence in your life?
A: My dad. He's always been my biggest influence - him or my mom. They've always been so supportive, and they've always told me to chase my dreams ... They never forced me to do anything. They just kinda told me to do what I loved.
Q: Explain your emotions after the overtime Purdue game.
A: Before the game we kept saying, 'One more game, one more win, win this 40 minutes, win this game and we're in the tournament.' To us, this was like our Super Bowl game.
... When their guard got fouled at the end ... we were all like, 'You've gotta be kidding me. This can't be happening to us again.' We've been on the road four or five times in battles where we lost by 3 or 4 points. We were in every game pretty much. To have it come down to that and have our season almost get put on the ropes with two free throws, we were all pretty nervous.
But when he missed, we came back in the huddle before overtime, and we knew we were going to win that game ... Everyone stepped up and made big plays.
Q: After the tournament was canceled, on your Instagram you posted a picture of a whiteboard with something written in the locker room. Can you explain the backstory to that?
A: When we started the year in September, we wrote on the board, '3/15/20,' which is Selection Sunday. Coach Pikiell, his word was 'sacrifice,' and the goal was 'to dance.' Those words were on the board from September until we left for the Big 10 Tournament.
... We never got that shot, so it was tough. I'm happy because everyone on the team sacrificed a bit of themselves to get to that moment, and I know we didn't get the Selection Sunday experience and whatnot, but to go through that journey together, to have that experience with each other and to really know that we did sacrifice for that moment, that means a lot more than I could put into words.
Q: What is it that you will miss most about Rutgers University?
A: I'm going to miss the people. Right down from coaches, to my teammates, to my friends that I've made over these four years, faculty, everyone I've had the opportunity to meet. The people have been awesome. That's what I love about Rutgers. That's why I stayed and that's why I wanted to be here ... Everyone is so nice, so kind, so helpful. If you need help with anything, people will reach out to you. I'm just fortunate and grateful to be a part of this ride, to be a part of this opportunity.
Q: How did Kobe Bryant's death affect your life and how did he influence you?
A: Kobe's death impacted us all. It affected me in ways beyond just basketball. To so many people, Kobe was untouchable, and it just seemed like he would live forever. It really makes you realize how short life is and how important it is to spend time with the people you love and to do the things you love as much as you can.
Q: My last question to you is, if senior Joey can give freshman Joey advice, what would it be?
A: Be patient. A lot of times you rush. I came here and didn't know a single person. I just came here hoping for the best. First few weeks, I didn't have many friends - or any friends really. Just be patient, it will come.
Now I'm leaving four years later, I feel like I have tons of friends, tons of connections for life, people I love, people I'll do anything for, people that'll do anything for me. If I knew from the beginning to stay patient and not get so overwhelmed and anxious, I think I would've had a little more fun here. But I have really enjoyed my time, I loved it and I am just thankful for this opportunity, and it was one of the best times of my life.
For updates on the Rutgers men's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.