Rough and Tumble Jeff Horner Eager for '03-'04

Robert Burns once wrote that ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry'. The meaning of that line is that no matter how carefully something is planned, something may still go wrong with it. Sophomore guard Jeff Horner had no idea of the difficulties that awaited him last October when he met with the Iowa media prior to the start of the 2002-2003 season.

He knew that the season was going to have its share of rough spots, because he as a freshman and he knew that he would be starting and logging a lot of minutes due to a depleted roster.

But what he could not have envisioned was that he would shoot about as poorly from the floor as he had shot at any level in his life.

Horner was Iowa's Mr. Basketball in 2002 and was a first team all-state selection three times. He was the first player to ever score more than 2,000 points in a class 4A prep career and he made more than 100 three-point shots during his senior season.

Horner has never been known as a ‘pure shooter', rather he was a player that could fill it up from anywhere on the court.

The saying ‘the kid is in range when he walks into the gym' fit Horner perfectly. There were nights that he would drain seven or eight three's and he would not be within 24 feet of the basket.

You get to the Big Ten with gaudy statistics and great ability, but to excel in that league is another story. It is as much of a mental grind as anything, and last year was the ultimate mental and physical challenge for Horner and his teammates.

Horner logged 35.4 minutes per game last season as a true freshman, second most on the team.

He put up numbers that no freshman at Iowa had ever done before him.

His 140 assists is an all-time Iowa record for a freshman, and Horner became just the eighth player in Iowa history to record more than 200 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists in one season.

His assist to turnover ratio was 1.81 to 1.00, a fantastic statistic.

Yet the one aspect of his game that was not so good was his three-point shooting. Horner attempted 148 three-point shots and made just 27.7 percent of them.

Regardless of the outstanding season he turned in, that is the one statistic that some folks seem to focus on above all others.

"It was tough, because people don't think that you can shoot the ball. But if you came in here and played me in H-O-R-S-E, I think it would be a little different story," said Horner, who has spent some time in the weight room since last year and it was visibly noticeable at this year's media day event.

"It was tough to go through that and know that I am a better shooter than what the numbers showed. I just think that this year will be better because I know what to expect."

And just why does Horner think that things will be better this year?

"I am just a lot more healthy this year. I finally got a few surgeries out of the way and I was able to work out on my own and get back into shape and that has helped me out."

In addition to hitting ‘the wall' that most freshmen experience during their second time through the Big Ten loop in February, Horner had his fair share of bruises and ailments.

His most significant problem was a sprained ankle that he suffered in late February.

"My ankle was hurting a lot, because I sprained it the day before the Indiana game and it never let up the rest of the season. Then during post-season workouts I hurt it again and had to go in and get that bone spur taken out. It was hurting pretty bad, but once you get down towards the end of the season, you might as well play it out because that is it."

Truth be told, that bone spur was bothering Horner all season long, though he never let on about it and given the decimated roster that Iowa had to deal with last year, his team could not afford him to miss any time, demonstrated by the fact that Horner started all 31 ball games last year.

And that can have an effect on a man's shot.

"It did affect it a little bit. But I also know when to shoot this year more than last year and when and where to get my shots and I feel more confident shooting the ball." Horner said.

"I thought that I would be able to handle it, then I had to have surgery on my foot. I didn't expect that at all. This year, I am in better shape coming into the season and I know what to expect, and that makes it a lot better."

Knowing when to shoot and where to shoot might sound like a simple thing, but Horner had just spent the last four years of his life with the ultimate green light and he rarely saw a shot during his Mason City career that he didn't like. To his credit, he and new teammate Adam Haluska were the two best players in the state during their senior years.

But Horner understands that being a Hawkeye is different than being a Mohawk, and with it comes a different discipline. And one of the biggest adjustments is knowing when to pick your spots on offense.

"It is different. Last year, coach wanted me to move up closer to the line, which gives me a better percentage at a good shot. It is kind of tough doing that, but I learned some things last year and this summer and that is what I need to do to become a better player and to help the team out. I just have to come and step up to the line and know when to shoot the three's."

It would seem that Horner is not joking.

During Iowa's trip to Australia this summer, Horner made 12 of his 24 three-point attempts and he also shot exactly 50 percent from the floor overall on the trip, averaging nearly 18 points per game playing against professional competition.

As a team, Iowa shot 36.5 percent from three-point range, better than the 29 percent they shot last year.

To put that number in a tangible light, if Iowa had shot 36.5 percent from three last year, that would have meant 3.6 more points per game. Four of Iowa's losses were by three points or less last year plus another loss that was by four points. Three of those losses came in the Big Ten regular season and Iowa finished 7-9 in the league.

That trip helped me out a lot, because I shot the ball fairly well over there, as did everyone. I think it just made everyone play a lot better together and now coming into the season, we now know what each other can do and just have more confidence in each other." Horner said.

When Horner looks around the Iowa locker room this year, he will also see several familiar faces.

Horner has played AAU ball with no fewer than six of his Iowa teammates during his year's with Martin Brothers, Iowa's most successful AAU club.

"We all get along and it is fun to hang out with each other and play with each other. Even Jared (Reiner) played on our team at one time so there are a lot of guys on this team that played on Martin Brothers at one time or another, so it is nice to have them here to play with and I think it will help out Mike (Henderson) and Ben (Rand) because they know a lot of guys on the team already."

There is another quote that reads ‘familiarity breeds contempt', but after being around this tem at media day this year, that just doesn't seem to be the case with this bunch.

There is a chemistry and a togetherness with this group that has lacking the last several years.

Jeff Horner will find the basketball in his hands a lot of the time again this season, but with one rigorous year under his belt and finally healthy, who knows how high this Hawkeye can fly.

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