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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Downs and out

Freshman leaves KU team, returns home to Washington

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In somewhat unusual fashion, Kansas University basketball freshman Micah Downs has left the program and returned home to Washington for reasons dubbed "personal" by those close to the situation.

Downs didn't practice Monday afternoon and flew home later that night.

KU coach Bill Self said he wasn't aware Downs even had left Lawrence until he received a call from the 6-foot-8 sharpshooter at 11 a.m. Tuesday. During that call, Downs informed the coach of his final decision to quit.

"I found out officially, I guess, this morning," Self said after Tuesday's practice, "although he indicated that was the direction he was leaning the last couple of days, the last three or four days."

Reached on his cell phone Tuesday, Downs declined to elaborate on his decision.

"Coach Self released a statement today," Downs said. "No offense to you, but that's all I want to say right now."

Self said he had three lengthy conversations with Downs between Thursday and Monday concerning the freshman's future. Downs didn't play in the Jayhawks' 96-54 victory Saturday over Nebraska - the first game of KU's second semester - because of what was explained at the time as an illness. Self questioned aloud Tuesday if there was more to Downs sitting out.

"Looking back now, you wonder," Self said.

"I do know that he was sick and was throwing up," Self said of Downs. "I think that was certainly the biggest reason why he didn't play. In the back of his mind, I don't know if the stress of the situation made (the illness) to be a little bit more serious than what it was."

Self said there was zero chance of Downs returning to the team, saying "the cord has been cut."

"We're disappointed that he only played the one semester," Self said, "but there's been too much water under the bridge now to go back, nor would that happen in my opinion."

Self refused to get into reasons for Downs leaving, though team sources say Downs never jelled with his teammates and didn't develop any close friendships with anyone on the roster during his brief time here, spending much of his free time alone in his room. Often, he talked on his cell phone to his girlfriend, who is back in Washington.

During the end of KU's blowout victory over Nebraska, ESPN television cameras showed the Jayhawk bench. All of the players were on their feet cheering except for Downs, who seemed disinterested.

Downs roomed with sophomore Russell Robinson at Jayhawker Towers.

No players were available for comment Tuesday, but Downs released a statement that read, in part, "I apologize to my former teammates and coaches for leaving at mid-year. I feel I can best deal with some personal problems closer to home that have been weighing on me over the last few months."

Downs is the sixth player to leave the KU program during Self's three seasons in Lawrence, though only he and Alex Galindo were true Self recruits.

The first five departures - Galindo, Omar Wilkes, David Padgett, Nick Bahe and J.R. Giddens - transferred to other schools during the offseason. Downs' midseason defection makes his situation different, and Self said Tuesday he knew nothing of Downs' future plans.

"He has not indicated he was going to transfer to another school, he hasn't indicated he was going to continue playing ball," Self said. "All he indicated was he wanted to be home."

Downs, when pressed about his future plans, appeared to be uncertain.

"I don't know," Downs said. "We'll sit down and figure that out. But I don't want to say anything except for what's on the release."

Downs averaged 4.3 points in 13 games this season, though he saw minimal action in the past nine contests. He played in just 18 minutes during the last seven games, though illness and an injured hand were at least partially blamed.

He showed flashes of being a lethal offensive weapon when he did play, though. Downs scored 13 points against Chaminade in the Maui Invitational and had double-digit scoring efforts against Western Illinois and California. He had at least two three-pointers in five consecutive games during the nonconference slate.

Self didn't give any hints as to what Downs' "personal" reasons entailed, but judging on the coach's feelings toward the departure, it doesn't appear to be anything of major seriousness.

"I'm personally disappointed, because I don't think it's in his best interest to do this," Self said of Downs quitting. "But he was adamant that it was something he needed to do."

Assistant sports editor Gary Bedore contributed information for this report.

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