Hawkeyes' Horner Healthy Again
By the end of last season, Jeff Horner resembled a retiree much more than a freshman point guard.
An ache here. A pain there. The Iowa guard needed a walker on nights when he was logging almost as many minutes as the score keeper.
Sit out? Not a gymrat. Not a coaches son trained to be a team player.
"I was hurt almost all of last year," Horner said. "You couldn't sit out. We only had seven guys."
But Horner feels like he cheated the Hawkeye fans.
"It was really tough to do what you wanted to do," he said. "You had to kind of restrict yourself on some of the moves you could make. It just kind of eats at you inside. You know that you could be doing things a lot better when you're healthier."
On this summer afternoon, Horner smiles with excitement before his Prime Time League game. He envisions showing Iowa followers his capabilities at full-strength.
His energy makes you scratch your head in wonderment. You think, "He had a pretty good first year."
Horner's 140 assists were the most ever by an Iowa freshman. And he became just the eighth Hawkeye to exceed 200 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists in a season.
Nice numbers, Horner says. But satisfaction also is rarely enjoyed by the gymrat.
"I've been trying to work on getting by my man, not playing with the ball so much," said Horner, who averaged 8.2 points, 4.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds in '02-03.
"I've also worked on changing speeds, which is needed at our level. I've been lifting weights trying to get bigger and stronger."
Though not his best game statistically, Horner showed his make-up in a March 1 game at Indiana. He played despite severely spraining his ankle in a morning shootaround. He left the locker room on crutches.
Horner originally injured his left foot in high school. The mishap at Indiana created severe pain, which the Mason City native withstood for the rest of the season.
"That kind of put it over the top," Horner said. "For the rest of the season, I was kind of playing with one leg. It was tough to get through that."
About two months ago, doctors removed a bone spur from Horner's left foot. That surgery came just less than a year after having a screw placed in his right foot.
Physicians kept Horner off of the court for four weeks following his most recent procedure.
"I'm still getting in shape," Horner said. "I just started playing again (in the PTL), and I'm doing individual workouts now. I'm just starting to get back into it."
"Hopefully now my feet are healed and I can start playing. They feel a lot better right now."
The arrival of incoming freshman Mike Henderson means that Horner likely will spend time at the off-guard position this season. The two in-state products are familiar with each other after playing AAU ball together.
"Jeff and me have played in the backcourt since the younger days," said Henderson, a slick-moving point guard from Waterloo East High.
"Being on the floor with him at the college level will be comfortable for me and him. We know each other so well. And we know what each other likes to do. Really, I can't wait for the opportunity to play with him."
Horner shot just 27.7 percent from the 3-point line last year. But he did hit a big trey to help sink Iowa State in the National Invitation Tournament.
It is an area of his game getting a lot of attention this summer.
"I'm trying to make that shot consistent," Horner said. "It's tough your first year of college when you come in and you've got to kind of take over the team. It's tough to know when to shoot.
"It will be a lot different next year. I'll be a lot more comfortable, and I'll know when to shoot the ball."
Horner also believes that experience will provide a solid foundation to a successful sophomore season. Picking up the little details can make a big difference.
"I figured out that it was a lot longer season than high school," the 6-foot-3 guard said. "You have to take care of your body. You've got to get to bed early.
"You can't let anything extra wear and tear on your body."
Iowa's improved depth - five more scholarship players join the team - should decrease some of the pounding.
Horner played 35.4 minutes a game in '02-03.
"Now when you get in those games when you're up by about 20 or 25 (points) with a lot of time left, you're going to be able to put the guys in that you know can hold the lead," Horner said. "It should help everybody stay healthier."
And a healthy Hawkeye bunch could translate into an exciting season.
"I think we're going to be competing for a Big Ten championship," Horner said. "If you think anything less, then you shouldn't be playing. We're going to be right there."
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