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On His Way Up : Servite’s Downs Overcomes Injury, Illness to Lead Team

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Servite forward David Downs is one of the best-kept secrets in Orange County.

Although Downs played a key role in the Friars’ charge to the Southern Section Division III-AA championship game last season, opponents, fans and recruiters would first take notice of his teammate Mark Seaton.

But Servite Coach Scott Hamilton always has said he is fortunate to have two Division I college caliber players.

“David has always had the ability,” Hamilton said. “He’s just not flashy. He’s a good ball-handler and defender, and when he gets his inside game going then he floats outside and makes three-pointers . . . “

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This season, Downs, a 6-foot-5 senior, is averaging 18 points and six rebounds and has made 24 of 45 (53%) from three-point range. But recruiters aren’t knocking down his door. Downs said Southern California College is the only school that has shown significant interest.

Sunset League coaches took note of Downs last season, voting him first-team all-league. Seaton, a 6-9 center who has signed a letter of intent with Stanford, was a second-team selection.

With Servite’s two stars returning this season, the Friars were hoping for bigger and better things. But the dream season has taken some nightmarish twists.

First, Downs hurt his back toward the end of summer and he missed the team’s last seven summer league games. After his back healed, Downs contracted a virus that put him in the hospital, keeping him out of school for 3 1/2 weeks.

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As Downs began to play himself back into shape, helping the Friars to a 7-2 start, Seaton broke a bone in his left foot, potentially sidelining him for the season.

So have the Friars moped? Just ask Trabuco Hills, the fifth-ranked team in Orange County.

Tuesday, the unranked Friars thumped Trabuco Hills, 92-77. Tonight, Ocean View will try to contain Downs and Servite when the teams meet in their Golden West League opener at 7 in Anaheim.

Against Trabuco Hills, Downs had 31 points--including five three-pointers--and 10 rebounds. And he hasn’t hit full speed yet.

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“I’m about 90% right now,” Downs said. “In the summer, I could play an entire game, even three full games in one day, and not be tired. I still get tired now and I haven’t played a full game since coming back.”

Four months ago, Downs wasn’t even thinking about basketball. He was just trying to move, period.

A mysterious virus kept Downs in the hospital for four days.

“My joints were paralyzed and I couldn’t move,” Downs said. “The doctors couldn’t figure out what it was. That’s what worried me the most. I had never had any major injuries and that was the first time I had ever been in a hospital.

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“Finally, they sent me home and I just rested. What a way to start my senior year.”

Downs tried to return the basketball court right away, but it wasn’t easy.

“The first time I practiced with the team this season, I ran up and down the court one time and I was dead tired,” Downs said.

Although Downs has almost fully recuperated from the virus, Hamilton is still hesitant about going full throttle with Downs.

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“It’s even scarier now that he’s close to being back,” Hamilton said. “If we push him too hard and he has a relapse or goes down, then we’re really in dire trouble.”

Servite will be without Seaton until at least the playoffs, but it isn’t something foreign to the Friars.

“We played the majority of the summer without Mark,” Hamilton said. “He was playing with his all-star team. I guess that turned out to be a blessing because it’s made the transition now a lot easier.”

Servite dealt with another hardship last season when Hamilton was suspended in mid-season after an off-court confrontation with a game official. Assistant Kevin Reynolds took over and the Friars reached the section final and State tournament.

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Hamilton was reinstated at the end of last season. Nine games into this season, the Friars lost Seaton--he was averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds--indefinitely. But Hamilton and Downs said the Friars have not adjusted their goals.

“We still want to win league and a (Southern Section) title,” Downs said.

Said Hamilton: “It hurts to lose a player like Mark, but we look at it as an opportunity for others to step up. We just have less margin for error.”

Downs also said a newfound team unity will help Servite deal with Seaton’s absence.

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“We didn’t have that last year,” Downs said. “The team is real close this year and I think that makes a big difference.”


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