Horn upbeat about upcoming season

USC head basketball coach Darrin Horn met with the media late last week and revealed that the Gamecocks are off to a good start as they prepare for their November 14th opener against Jacksonville State. If Horn's enthusiasm is any indication of how the season might go for the Gamecocks, Carolina fans just may be in for an exciting and successful year in the inaugural season under their new mentor.

"We've been really pleased with practice," Horn told the assembled media. "Our guys have come with great attitudes and have shown a tremendous work ethic and we're making progress. As usual, coaches are never happy about how that progress is coming. But we are making progress and have been really excited about what we've seen so far.

"We've been really pleased about how hard our players have worked (and) the attitude they've come with everyday."

Conditioning will be a key to the Gamecocks' success, as Horn favors an up-tempo style that demands his players to be in tip-top shape. The early indications are that the team has worked hard over the past several months to be ready for the breakneck pace that their new coach employs.

"Again, to this point, we are pleased with it," Horn said of his team's conditioning. "And purposely, we have tried to ease our way into it to some degree. It's going to be a long season and we've only got literally 11 guys and a six or seven core that we'll probably be counting on. But I think some of that will depend on how we move forward and that can always be changed in terms of (if) there's an injury or something like that as well. So we'll just have to deal with it as it comes."

When Horn alludes to a core of "six or seven", he is referring to the number of players that will in all probability garner most of the minutes on the floor. But that doesn't mean that every player, regardless of talent or where they stand on the depth chart, isn't expected to give every last ounce of effort in everything they do to help contribute to the team's success.

"Obviously, from a talent perspective," he explained, "there's six or seven that maybe are a step above those next three or four. And so I don't think that's a secret to anybody. But at the same time, we need everybody to step up and produce within whatever their role is. And that's what we're trying to focus on in practice right now. Whether you are an all SEC player like Devan Downey (or another player), you need to try and play that way every night and that means a lot of things. (It's) more than just points. You might be a role guy like an Austin Steed. We need (everyone) to do your role at its highest level every night."

Horn praised returning guards Zam Fredrick and Brandis Raley-Ross as players that have worked hard to become better all-around players, not just guys that can put the ball in the basket.

"They can shoot the ball," Horn said. "I think that the thing that's been exciting to me as a coach is that I think a lot of guys maybe have been pegged as JUST shooters. We've seen the potential for them to do more. Zam Fredrick has been terrific so far. He's got a great mind for the game. Obviously, he's a coach's son and has grown up around the game and understands things. And Brandis has demonstrated an ability to have a feel for the game and even give us a little defensive presence on the perimeter as well. So I think those two are an example of guys that can be more than maybe they've been stereotyped to do. Another guy that I would put in that category is Evka (Baniulis). He is long and can shoot the ball, but he has good feel and because of his size, he can do more than he has done."

The Gamecocks were picked recently to finish next-to-last in the six team SEC East Division. Horn was asked if this serves as motivation for the team or whether it really doesn't matter to them.

"It's a little of both," Horn replied. "Obviously, I think all these guys think that we're better than that. I think we have the chance to be better than that. But at the same time, what matters is: ‘Are you willing to put in what you have to put in time and work ethic-wise to make the result different than that?'. Because at the end of the day, that's really all that matters. So yeah, we'll definitely use it, but at the same time, we need to get better at some things, too."

As for first-year expectations for a team coming off of a losing season and adjusting to a new coach and system, Horn is firm in his commitment to winning now rather than later.

"Our goal and our expectation here in terms of what we're playing for is always going to be to compete for a championship and to be in the NCAA tournament," he explained. "I don't know if it's reasonable or not, but that's what we always want it to be. We think you have to set (goals) there to make yourself work that way to have a chance to get to it. And so there's a lot of things that happen in a basketball season with teams in between the start of the season and the end. I think you can take Kentucky as an example of that last year. They started out (slow) and everybody had written them off. Before long, they're 12-4 at the end of the year in the SEC. For us right now, that's always going to be our goal. But you can't get to that if you don't come and work every single day. So our primary focus right now is having a great work ethic and making sure we're better when we leave the gym than when we came in."

Ultimately, Horn and his staff are working their tails off to ensure that this team, first and foremost, reaches their utmost potential. And, he adds, they are having a great time doing it.

"Yeah, other than March, this is the best time of the year," he smiled. Everybody's excited and really looking forward to getting out there. (The players are) attentive, and it hasn't gotten too hard yet. It's new and exciting for both players and coaches. So this is a great time of year. I personally am having a blast! This is a really good group to coach and it's really fun to work with these guys everyday. They've been really hungry."

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