Horn discusses team, state of college b-ball
Controlling the phone lines just as he controls the room during a press conference, a cautiously optimistic Darrin Horn spoke with the media for his first SEC Summer Teleconference as the USC men's basketball coach on Wednesday.
Despite the fact the Gamecocks are coming off a disappointing 14-18 (5-11 SEC) season in Dave Odom's final year, Horn expressed excitement about USC's returning players.
"I think one of the things that sticks out for everybody, obviously, is we return an All-SEC guard in Devan Downey, who we're very excited about to have the opportunity to coach," Horn said. "I think he'll fit in very well with our style of play."
In his first year on the court for the Gamecocks Downey mesmerized fans, leading USC with 18.4 points a game and 5.38 assists a game. The lightning-quick Downey also set the SEC record for most steals in a season with 103 (Clint McDaniel, Arkansas, 102).
Horn also mentioned Dominique Archie and Zam Frederick as experienced players he is excited about working with. Horn says Archie is athletic and versatile, and will only get better. South Carolina returns all five players who started in its final game last year against Tennessee with Dwayne Day the only major contributor from last year not back with the team.
Horn is also fired up about developing some of the younger players he has acquired.
"You've got a couple of guys in Sam Muldrow and Mike Holmes that showed some signs as young players of giving us some production," Horn said. "And I think they're guys, like all freshman do that become sophomores, who are going to show improvement this year. So there's a few pieces that we feel like are positives that we want to try to build on."
Muldrow played sparingly last year, averaging almost 14 minutes a game, but was still able to lead the team in blocks with 42. At a long and lean 6'9", 216-pounds, if he can put on some good weight, Muldrow could be the big defender who can still run the floor that Horn needs in his system.
It remains to be seen how Holmes will fit in with what Horn wants to do, but the talented sophomore will likely find himself on the court somewhere. After a slow start to his freshman campaign, Holmes rebounded for an impressive finish. Holmes became the first USC freshman since the Gamecocks joined the SEC to have three double-doubles in a season, on his way to a freshman All-SEC year.
The challenge Horn now faces is to take those returning players and the abundance of close losses they experienced last season and turn them into wins. USC played 19 games last season where the teams were separated by 5 points or less with two minutes to go, and the Gamecocks went only 8-11 in those contests.
"They were in a lot of close games last year and not many of them came out on the end they wanted them to, and we want to try to challenge them to make those come out different this year," Horn said. "And you do that through work ethic; you do that through playing tough. You do it through being together, by believing in what you're doing, and being committed to a style of play."
Just around three and a half months into his tenure at South Carolina, Horn is happy with South Carolina's progress, but knows there's a long way to go. Horn says the Gamecocks are only in the early stages of learning all of those things he hopes to instill in his team.
"That's what we've been preaching to them thus far, and I think in general [what] our guys are excited about, but we haven't gotten full throttle into it yet, so I think it's still going to be fun right now."
Effects of the new three-point line
In May the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Committee approved the Men's Basketball Rules Committee's proposal to move the three-point line to 20', 9", a full foot farther back than where the line has been in the 20 years since it was adopted.
Horn believes there will be an adjustment period for most coaches as they feel out how the change actually affects the game.
"In some ways it could hurt," Horn said. "In some ways it could help because it's going to spread the zone out a little bit more in terms of covering that extra distance to the three point line. I think it's going to be a work in process on both sides of the ball for all teams."
Horn doesn't foresee any specific changes to his offensive scheme due to the rule change.
"I think in terms of what we do offensively it won't change a whole lot," Horn said. "There may be a few guys that think they're going to get to shoot it a lot that aren't; that'll be proved over our practice time I think."
Horn did add that overall he doesn't see it changing the game much.
"We're just going to see how it goes," Horn said. "In general I don't think it's going to be an earth-shattering thing because I don't think the distance is far enough for that to happen."
A shorter season?
The SEC coaches also responded to testimony by Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, a member of the NCAA Basketball Academic Enhancement Group, that the season should start later in November to ease the academic pressure on the players in the fall. Horn agreed that the concept was at least worth looking into.
"I think anything that helps our players academically that doesn't hurt the game as a whole, I think that's part of our responsibility as well, is a positive thing," Horn said. "It seems like things have gotten earlier and earlier, and more and more is getting cramped into that time."
Georgia men's basketball coach Dennis Felton agreed with Horn, and the concept of shortening the season.
"I'm very much in favor of putting serious consideration into making our sport a one-semester sport," Felton said. "If we are really serious about helping our student-athletes or putting them in a better position to do well academically, then we've got to consider it. I think it would be very helpful."
Horn added that if the season was played in a shorter time span, then there would be no way around cutting some of the games, rather than compressing the season even more.
"I don't think you can shorten the season and keep the same number of games," Horn said. "We already have a hard time squeezing in the kind of games that you want with the numbers, especially when you take the (exhibition) tournaments into consideration; essentially you lose almost a whole week with that, yet you're still trying to get the whole schedule in."
Felton believes you wouldn't see many coaches disagree with the proposal and that the SEC coaches he has talked to all agree.
"For the last few years, I know our coaches in the SEC have talked about it a little at the last few spring meetings and everyone seems to have a favorable attitude about the idea," Felton said.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches released a statement in June asking its coaches not to offer scholarships or accept commitments from potential players until at least June 15th following their sophomore year in high school.
While most of the coaches agreed with the premise of the idea, they questioned whether realistically they could not offer a young player while watching coaches of competing programs offer that player.
Kentucky men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie has accepted commitments from an eighth grader and high school freshman since the end of last season. Shortly after the request, Gillispie told The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., that he would adhere to the NABC's request. While Gillispie says he still plans to do what the committee has asked, he says he won't do it if it's to the detriment of his program.
"When that first came out, I think you guys asked me and I said that I'm a company man or whatever," Gillispie said. "But I'm not going to get beat up as far as competing. You always want to try to do what a coaches organization, which I have a great deal of respect for, asks you to do. But you're not going to be sitting by the wayside while other people are getting ahead of you as far as competition is concerned."
Horn says he can agree with the idea, but says he would have to view it as a case-by-case decision on whether to offer a young player.
"I think as a general rule, that's probably pretty good," Horn said. "But if it's a situation where specifically if it's a local kid for example, you've seen the kid; you've developed a relationship with him, his family, and his coaches; you know what the kid is about and what their goals and desires are and how that would fit with your program or what you're doing; and obviously what his talent level is and where you would project him because there has been serious evaluation and development of a relationship, then I don't see a problem with that."
Coach Felton saw no way he could realistically uphold the request even though he does respect it.
"I don't think you can do it," Felton said. "We can't control the timeline with which all these various players from around the country want to go through the process and make decisions. It doesn't make much sense. I wouldn't be doing my job if I sat by idly and not pursuing players aggressively that I believe can help our program, while others do, and watch that process pass us by."
Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl says the NABC has bigger problems to worry about than when coaches are offering players.
"I quite frankly don't understand it," Pearl said. "I would prefer the NABC to be spending time with issues that greater affect coaches like our lack of job security, like the NCAA rules as it relates to how we can recruit and our inability to communicate with these student athletes - one phone call a month, not being able to text. With the challenges we're facing with the one and done. I just don't understand it."
Mississippi State men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury believes the coaches should be able to handle their scholarships the way they see fit within the rules.
"I don't see the problem," Stansbury said. "We have 13 [scholarships to give], so let us use the 13 the ways we want to use them."
LSU coach Trent Johnson took a different approach, questioning whether a prospect can even be accurately evaluated that young.
"When a kid's a recruit, I want to evaluate him; I want to look at him and do everything possible within the rules, but it's hard for me to get excited about a kid who's going in the ninth grade or going in the tenth grade," Johnson said. "A lot can change, and I'm not talking about physically as much as I'm talking about mentally. A lot can change between your sophomore year or ninth-grade year in high school between your junior year and senior year."
Ole Miss head basketball coach Andy Kennedy says coaches can at least evaluate a player physically as a ninth or tenth grader.
"Kids that are rising ninth graders, that are rising tenth graders you can tell, doing this as much as we do, you can tell the ones that are going to be the players," Kennedy said. "If you saw them as much as we do, you would be able to go in a gym of 100 guys, and you'd see the four or five that you know, God-willing, are going to be the players in a few years.
"Coaches are obviously trying to do anything they can to get a competitive advantage, and recruit the best players; it's kind of important in our business."
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