Daniel Horton Embracing His Role

Daniel Horton's evolution as a basketball player has been on display thus far in the young basketball season. Michigan's floor general has excelled as a defender and as a distributor. On top of that, he has also carried the team offensively at times. The Texas native is a more mature player, and according to him, the best is yet to come.

Heading into the 2005/2006 basketball season, many looked upon senior point guard Daniel Horton as the heart and soul of the Michigan basketball team. Despite not having the captains title listed next to his name in the program, most know he is the leader of this team. But what does that mean? In Horton's mind, in previous years that meant scoring the basketball. At times, that approach grinded on his head coach…a man who as a college point guard himself based his entire game on distributing the ball and playing tight defense. Transforming Horton from a gun-slinging point guard (who just happened to win Big Ten freshman of the year based on his scoring ability), into a floor general that found his own offense within the flow of the game has been a long process for Michigan headman Tommy Amaker. Now, though, the message has seemingly found its mark. Horton is playing the best basketball of his career, and it's not just because of the points he is scoring.

In Tuesday night's victory over Miami Horton had only five points heading into the last ten minutes game, but his stifling defense throughout was one of the most significant factors in the win. "I thought Daniel's defensive presence and tenacity on Diaz set the tone early for our team," Amaker said. "We're a different team when he's on the floor. It's no secret that when he was out, we weren't as efficient at the end of the first half. Obviously he played the majority of the second half. I think that's one of the main reasons we stretched the lead out and were able to have a comfortable margin."

Winning has always been the most important thing for Horton, but his thoughts on how to achieve that result have obviously changed. He has finally bought in, and so too have his teammates. According to Horton, the win against Miami is a clear sign of that. "I think it was very important for this team and this program to beat a good quality team like Miami and to come out to play as well as we did to make a statement that we have things that we want to accomplish this year.," he said. "We knew from an athletic standpoint and as far as individual players, we knew these were probably going to be our toughest match-ups to this point. But we realize that, in a way, it's more about what we do because we feel like we have the guys in this room to do some special things. If we come out, work hard everyday, and prepare and do the things that coach asks us to do, it will put us in position to have nights like tonight."

Aside from the impressive defensive showing, one of the most encouraging aspects of Tuesday night's victory was the Maize and Blue's ability to hold on to their double-digit lead in the second half. Horton found that to be another sign of his team's progress. "I think that shows the maturity and the steps we've taken over the years," he said. "It has not been an easy process. It hasn't been a process with no bumps in the road. We've had to go to a lot of things to get to the point where we can have big leads, sustain them, and keep teams at bay. In the middle of making that run, after a media timeout, coming out and keeping the pressure up and executing on offense shows growth and maturity. A young team would make a run…media timeout…then come back out and let the team right back in it. I think we did a good job of keeping those guys out of the game. I think by us doing that against an explosive team like Miami...that speaks volumes about the level of maturity and the level of growth that we've gone through over the past few years."

Horton has played a vital role in facilitating that maturation process by playing a more deferential role with the ball in his hands. His ability to weather a few trying situations off of the court last season have obviously offered him on court perspective. "I think I've grown a lot as well…personally and as an individual player," Horton said. "I've embraced my role more…the role that coach has asked me to play. He asked me to sacrifice out there and at first I struggled with that. Now I'm embracing it and I like doing it. It's like with anything…if that's your job and you like doing it, then you're probably going to be pretty good at it. I just try to go out there and play as hard as I can and do the things coach asks me to do."

That sacrifice has manifested itself a number of times this year. However, just because Horton isn't forcing his own offense anymore does not mean he isn't the same offensive threat that he was in previous years. He has already shown in this young season that he still has the ability to go to the well when his team needs him to. Against Boston he scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half…outscoring the opposition 7-2 at one point and icing the game down the stretch with four free throws. In the next game versus Butler he scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half (while also dishing seven assists and grabbing four steals). In each of those games he rescued the team when other players were experiencing difficulties offensively. Against Miami, there was a more balanced score-sheet, but the Wolverines still needed every one of his eight points down the stretch to put the Hurricanes away. Turning his offense on when needed is something that Horton is really growing into.

"I feel comfortable doing that," Horton said. "Chauncey Billups does it all of the time. I think it adds another dimension to our team when I'm able to take a backseat and let other guys do their thing, and help put them in positions where they can be successful and do what they do best. When the teams needs me to step up and play the way I know I can play personally, that adds another dimension to this team."

As positive as things look now for the home team now, Michigan's leader in the locker room is helping to remind his teammates that they're only four games into a long schedule. The time to celebrate hasn't arrived yet and the biggest tests are still front of them. Like his coach always says, 'the next game is always the most important. "The Notre Dame game, in some ways, validates {the Miami] win," Horton said. "I think if we go out, play well against Notre Dame, and we take care of business, then I think that reinforces what we did tonight."

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