Interview with Horton's father

CEDAR HILL, TEXAS -- <i>Inside Carolina</i>'s David Thompson traveled to Cedar Hill High School to attend the workout of point guard Jason Horton, a 2004 Carolina target. In the fourth installment of a week-long spotlight, IC talks with Horton's father, Darryl, who provides an insightful look into Jason's game and his recruitment.

Inside Carolina: Tell us about your basketball background a bit.

Darryl Horton: I played high school basketball in Memphis, Tennessee and my senior year, we were 36-0, state champions and I had an opportunity to go to school on a basketball scholarship. But, for some reason, I went to school on a football scholarship. It was a numbers thing. It was like, OK, they can't play but five at a time in basketball but 22 can play in football so I just kind of went with the numbers game. I was always a pretty good basketball player but I wasn't to the level of Daniel and Jason. I was pretty good.

IC: Are you from a basketball family?

Horton: I don't know if it's just basketball but we're from an athletic family. My brothers, my dad, granddad, my kids, their uncles on their mother's side of the family… There's a lot of athletes in our family, basketball players, football players, baseball players… so we come from a pretty athletic family.

IC: How about your coaching experience. You coached at Dallas Lincoln for a while?

Horton: I've been coaching 20+ years. I coached at Lincoln, I coached in Louisiana, I coached in Tennessee, and I've been involved with basketball and in coaching at some level for the last 20 years.

Coaching at Lincoln was a really good experience. We had great athletes. We had good and great basketball players, a good tradition, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

IC: How about now with Team Texas Elite?

Horton: Right now I'm coaching Team Texas Elite AAU team. We're one of the more high-profile teams in the state of Texas and in the United States. Last year they won – I wasn't with them last year; I was with the Texas Blue Chips – but they won the Peach Jam and the Orlando Super Showcase and we're just trying to get back and do the same thing this year.

IC: Who are some of the players on your Team Texas Elite AAU team?

Horton: Kevin Langford, Terrell Porter, Chris Lowe, David Fisher…

IC: Jason is no longer with the Texas Blue Chips but now plays with your team. Can you tell us about that decision?

Horton: Well, it was a family decision. Sometimes, as a parent, you have to make what you consider the best decision for your kid and it's nothing against the Blue Chips. You know, Mitch [Malone] does a good job with his program and he'll continue to do a good job. He has good players now. But I just thought for Jason's development and for the rest of his career as far as AAU, I thought it would be better if we moved on and went in another direction.

IC: It must be very gratifying to see the progress of your son, Jason.

Horton: Yes, he's done a good job. He's a good kid. He works real hard and he's hungry – he wants to succeed and I've always told him and Daniel that I'll do whatever I can to help them.

IC: Tell me what's outstanding to a first-time observer about Jason.

Horton: When they see him on the basketball court, I think the first thing that they would notice is how aggressive he is, his quickness and his ball-handling ability and how he just makes everyone around him better. I think that that would be the first thing that they would notice.

IC: How are you helping Jason as he's developing his game?

Horton: Right now we're concentrating and focusing on the mental aspect of the game. I always get on him about, I always tell him – maybe I shouldn't do it – but I always tell him that Daniel is a little more mentally tough, as far as mental toughness. And I'm just trying to help him improve that aspect of his game.

As far as the physical things, he's right there! He's going to get better just because he's going to get older and stronger, but as far as the physical things, there's not many kids that can do some of the things that he can do.

I'm just trying to work with him on the mental aspect of the game.

IC: Tell me about your one-on-one with Jason that he told me about. He was talking a little bit of smack about it…

Horton: [laughing] Actually, when they were growing up and when they were a little younger, I would play them one-on-one, just to let them know "Pops" still has it. I wouldn't even attempt to now. If they want to shoot and play horse, I can hang with them, but as far as playing one-on-one, I think my day is pretty much done with that.

IC: What do you think he's strongest at?

Horton: His floor leadership and his ability to make other kids around him better. And his ability – I mean he can pretty much do anything that you want him to do. If you want him to score, he can score. If you want him to be a playmaker, and lead the team and make guys better, he can do that also. I would say those two things are his main strengths and attributes. And he's a hell of a defender – he's a hell of a defender.

IC: What area would you consider his greatest need to make improvement in?

Horton: Shooting the basketball. He's come a long way as far as shooting the basketball. Spot-up shooting, shooting off the dribble, shooting off the move – he's done a great job. He doesn't look like the same kid that he did at this point last year, shooting the ball.

And Coach Milson has done a great job with that, also. So he's getting it from both of us.

IC: How have you seen Jason improve from last year to this year?

Horton: His leadership. He's become more of a leader. On the basketball court, leadership, his shooting ability, just his overall game has grown quite a bit. He's really grown. His game has matured and it's scary because he has a lot of room to get better!

IC: Recruiting analysts have Jason pegged highly in his class. Do you think his current rankings are accurate?

Horton: I don't know, David. It's so… it's such a subjective thing. They say "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Some people might see him and say, "that kid is great." And some people might see him and say "that kid is not as good as this kid." I just want him to keep working hard and be the best he can be and, at the end of the day, let the chips fall where they may.

IC: To whom would you compare Jason's game on the college level right now?

Horton: I would say, right now, TJ Ford, probably with a little better jump shot… TJ Ford with a jump shot – a consistent jump shot.

IC: And anybody on the professional level?

Horton: Right off the top of my head, I can't think of any, because… Hmmm… That's a good question. With his ball-handling and quickness, I don't know. I'll have to think about that one.

IC: You were just in Chapel Hill for the Tournament of Champions. Tell us what you thought about, first of all, the tournament and what did you think of the town of Chapel Hill?

Horton: Well, first of all, the tournament, it was wonderful – the best tournament that we've been to this spring, probably the best, as far as the competition level, the facilities… Everything was great.

And the campus itself was a beautiful campus. Now I was up in Ann Arbor last year and I was really impressed with Michigan's campus, but North Carolina's campus was just as impressive.

IC: How did you feel about Jason's play during the TOC?

Horton: He played great. I missed the first game. From what I heard, he played great. And then, the next day, against Beach Ball [Select], I thought he played pretty good. And he was very consistent.

That's another thing we've been trying to work on – his consistency – playing good for long stretches of time, not just one game and then the next game, you're "OK." But just determine to be consistent. And I was impressed with his consistency.

IC: Were you able to communicate with any of coaches while you were there?

Horton: No, I didn't get a chance to talk to any coaches while we were there. Now, they [players] went on a tour of Carolina, I mean I think they took them on a tour and also, when we played at Cameron, we went on a tour of Cameron. But everything I saw, it was impressive – the banners hanging from the rafters – it was quite an impressive sight.

IC: Jason mentioned he loved the facilities at Chapel Hill.

Horton: Oh yeah, he was impressed. Like I said, I missed the tour at Carolina because I didn't get there until Friday night, but when I got there, that was the first thing he started telling me about, how they went in the locker rooms. He said, even in the locker room, he was impressed with the fact that they had, I guess, banners hanging up in the locker rooms. That really impressed him.

IC: You just went through recruiting with Daniel [Michigan, Class of 2002]. How is that experience helping you with Jason's recruitment?

Horton: Just learning patience and, when you go through the recruitment process once, you learn to really listen to what college coaches have to say, because a lot of times you will hear the same things. You will go here and the coach from "X University" will say one thing and the coach from "X University" will say the same thing. But you just have to really listen and pretty much have to be a good judge of people and character.

I listen to what they say but, at the same time, I also try to notice their body language and tone of voice and their sincerity and things like that. So that's what I learned from that, just to look for little small things, not just the things you hear on the surface.

IC: What are the things you're looking for, for your son, in a college situation?

Horton: I just want him to go somewhere where he can fit in and somewhere where he can enjoy the total college experience. The athletics, the academics, the social life, because the social life is a part of the college experience also. And that's what I'm looking for.

And somewhere where he's going to be happy. He can't be a place where I'm going to be happy because I'm not going to be there four years. I want him to be happy and in a place where he can get a good education and be able to be self-sufficient and be able to take care of himself.

IC: Does the distance to Chapel Hill bother you at all?

Horton: Well, no [laughing], because my oldest one is going to Michigan so, I mean, distance is not a problem with us because you never know where you're going to find happiness. You may stay here close to home and you may not be happy or you may go to Hawaii – that may be the place for you. So, no, distance is not a factor because wherever they are, that's where we'll be. That's the way I look at it.

IC: What have your interactions been like with Coach Doherty and the North Carolina coaching staff?

Horton: I've met Coach Doherty a couple of times. I met him last year out in California, after the Best of the Summer Tournament and we spoke briefly. And I've met Coach Quartlebaum. I've met Coach Wojcik.

And also, Coach Doherty and I spoke briefly down at the Houston Kingwood Tournament. He seems like a good guy. I don't know a whole lot about him but he seems like a good guy. It appears to me that he stands for all the right things in college basketball – the kids' well-being, welfare, development – just all of that, he seems OK.

IC: Have you got any concerns with North Carolina and the program after the difficult year they've just had and with some of the transfers out they've had?

Horton: No, because every school has their share of kids that aren't happy for whatever reason. If it's playing time… They may be homesick… "My girl, I want to go where my girlfriend is…" That happens everywhere. I mean, I saw where a couple of other schools had two or three kids to leave so that's a thing that Utah, I want to say Kentucky, Arkansas… I mean, I could go on and on. That type of things happens all the time. It happened when I was in college so it's going to continue to happen.

IC: Tell me what your hopes are for Jason through this recruiting process.

Horton: I just hope that he is able to have a really good, positive experience at whatever school he chooses. I hope he chooses the school for the school and not, more or less, for the coach. Kids can get caught up in, "hey, I want to play for Coach so-and-so and then, you look up and the coach is gone and then he doesn't want to go to that particular school.

Whatever school that he chooses, I want him to choose it for "the school" because he likes the school, it's a good fit for him, he can get a good education from that particular school, and he wants to be a part of that school's legacy and history. And, as far as anything else, that's what I want him to get out of it.

IC: What do you think about Jason in the classroom?

Horton: He does a great job. He's a good student. You know, as a parent, you can never be 100% satisfied. You're always trying to help. He comes in and says he's got a 3.62. My next question is, "Why don't you have a 4.0?" That's just the parent in you, but he and Daniel have always been good students. Education and academics have always been a priority. And so we're just really blessed as far as that is concerned.

IC: Has Jason been offered any scholarships?

Horton: Yes, a few schools have offered. But right now I just want him to keep working on his game, keep trying to get better, and when the time comes to make a decision, then we'll sit down as a family and make an informed decision as far as what school that's best for him. It'll be his decision. It won't be mine. I'll give him my input, my advice. I'm sure his mom will, too. And then, we'll just go from there.

IC: Do you sense any excitement from Jason about particular schools?

Horton: He's very excited about North Carolina. He's excited about the fact that Duke was or is interested, but with them signing the other kid [DeMarcus Nelson], the other point guard, I don't see that situation working out. He was excited about Michigan for the simple fact that Daniel's up there and he likes Coach Amaker. He's excited about Arizona – he likes Arizona. He likes them a lot. These are just schools that he's very excited about. He's excited about Texas; he likes Texas – Rick Barnes and Frank Haith – they're good guys.

To be honest with you, he said something interesting to me the other day. He said that he likes being recruited, he likes the attention, but he doesn't really like the recruiting process too much. Because he's kind of like Daniel was. Daniel didn't like it either, so…

He said something the other night that was interesting. He said that he feels like just going on and trying to get it out of the way, by the time the summer's over. I just told him, "Be patient, take your time and everything will work itself out."

IC: Do you think there's a possibility he would decide by the time summer is over?

Horton: I don't know. He said he would. He said he wanted to and then he'll come back and say, "Well, Dad, I think I'm going to wait a little longer."

IC: Does he have a favorite college team that he likes to watch on TV?

Horton: You know, growing up it was Syracuse. It really was, he really loved watching Syracuse play. And up until about two or three years ago, "Dad, I'm going to Syracuse." I was like, "Syracuse?! Man…" just kidding around. He used to love watching them play.

He likes watching Duke play. He likes watching Arizona play. He likes teams that "get in your face" defense, get up and down, up-tempo.

IC: And North Carolina?

Horton: Actually, we didn't get a lot of their games down here unless they were on ESPN or ESPN2. Those other national games, we didn't get a lot of their games for some reason.

IC: How does Jason feel about the University of North Carolina?

Horton: He likes them. He likes them a lot. He's real impressed with the campus when we went up there. He's always liked them. I'm not going to say it's been a dream of his to play for them, but I know he's always thought real highly of them. Even more so now. Because, he never really thought that schools like North Carolina would be interested in him. It's just him being naïve.

IC: How often does he have contact with North Carolina?

Horton: They send things. They've been sending him FedEx packages but we haven't really had time to contact them. We were supposed to call them but we've been out of town a lot. During the day we come and work out. But I think Coach Milson has been in contact with them quite a bit. He talks to them a lot.

IC: Who's the point of contact with North Carolina?

Horton: I think it's Coach Wojcik.

IC: And have any of the North Carolina coaches come to any of Jason's games?

Horton: Yes. Coach Doherty, when we were in Houston at the Kingswood Classic – I think that was the last evaluation period for college coaches – and he was at every game. Every game we played, he was there. And I think Jason was really impressed by that.

IC: How do you feel about the way North Carolina is handling his recruitment?

Horton: I think they're handling it first class. They're doing a good job. He's interested and they're keeping him interested. Their letting him know that they're interested I think is a big factor.

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