Much has been made of the post player recruits for Stanford basketball in this 2004 class, and rightfully so. The Card need three big bodies out of the current junior class, with some mix of centers and power forwards. But the fourth scholarship available for the class is earmarked for a point guard, which is arguably at least as critical a need. The last top 100 floor general Stanford successfully recruited (and was academically admitted) was Chris Hernandez in 2001, and though he is set to reclaim the reins this fall, he has a very questionable future with his history of back problems and two breaks in his foot this past season. Any school wants an elite point guard to raise the level of play of its entire program, but the Card in something approaching an emergency need it they want to return to the Final Four.
The answer to those prayers may be found in Cedar Hill, Texas, where elite six-foot point guard Jason Horton is building a reputation as one of the top in the nation at his position. He led his Cedar Hill team to an amazing 30-3 record his junior season, averaging 17 points, seven assists and two steals per game. He was the only junior in the state named to the 5A all-state team by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. "I had a pretty good year," Horton admits. "I improved my shooting a lot. I like breaking down my defender, then dishing to my teammates. But if my defender backs off me, I can pull up for the midrange jumper or pop a three. I like to take whatever the other team gives us, but I love to see my teammates score."
Says preeminent basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep of TheInsidersHoops, "Cleary, there are basketball genes in the family with his brother playing a starring role at Michigan. Horton will rank among a handful of the best point guards in the class. He comes from a terrific high school program. He's got range and quickness with his offensive game. He'll start the summer being ranked among the Top 50 prospects in the nation." Indeed, Telep just released his watch list of the top points in the 2004 class today and ranked Horton #4 in the country.
Horton is so highly regarded because he brings both dimensions you want in a top-flight point guard: he is a gifted distributor who can create shots for his teammates with his athletic driving threat, but he also has the ability to score big points when needed. He has both skill sets and knows which to accentuate in different games. He has a good handle and is pretty quick at 6'1". If there is one area of his game he is trying to improve, though, it is the killer scoring mentality. "Sometimes I need to be a little more selfish," he reveals.
In the course of Cedar Hill's fantastic season, he matched up a few times against some of the state's top points. He played against top senior point guard Dez Willingham of DeSoto three times, winning the first game (13 points by each player), but losing the next two (did not match up much). The other elite PG in the state in Horton's class is of course Daniel Gibson from Houston. That showdown provided the only other loss for Horton and his Cedar Hill team during the season, but both points had fantastic games with 18 points. Horton had six assists to Gibson's four.
The comparisons and competition between Horton and Gibson will heat up in this spring and summer AAU period, with Horton playing for the vaunted Team Texas club and Gibson suiting up again with Houston Hoops. This weekend will provide the first national event of the AAU season, as teams from across the country converge in Virginia for the Boo Williams Invitational. But just a week ago, the two teams met in a big in-state event held in Houston called the Texas Tip-off. Horton's squad won the tournament, including two victories over Houston Hoops. He scored 16 points and 10 assists in the second matchup, but just nine points to go with eight assists in the first showdown. However, in that first game Horton scored six huge points in the final minute as he nailed a trey to tie the game and then came right back down to hit another from long distance to win.
Horton will be playing at the Boo this weekend, then in Austin for a Tops in Texas event, followed by the Kingwood Classic in Houston at the end of the month. His loaded team includes fellow Stanford recruit power forward Kevin Langford, plus one of the most talented 6'10" players in the country in LaMarcus Aldridge. Collin Dennis adds bigtime talent in the backcourt, while Marvin Porter will help at forward. During the summer, they will hit the Peach Jam in Atlanta and the Big Time in Las Vegas. Individually, Horton has been invited to the Nike All-American camp, NBPA camp and the Five-Star camp. He'll have oodles of exposure in front of recruiting evaluators as he competes for one of the top point guard slots in his class, and in front of college coaches as his recruitment heats up.
Horton's top list of schools includes Missouri, Florida State, Arizona State, Texas, Stanford, Arizona and Michigan, and he says that all have offered scholarships. The two obvious choices would appear to be Michigan, where his older brother Daniel Horton played this past season as a freshman, and Texas just a few hours away on I-35. But Texas has a commitment from Gibson already, and Horton has said that geography "is not important at all" to him in his decision. In fact, he grew up in New Orleans and has only been in the Dallas area for the last three years.
Michigan should still loom large as a favorite for this elite point guard's services though, with the allure of playing with his older brother. "My brother and I love playing together and we've done it all our lives," the Cedar Hill junior elaborates. "That's our dream backcourt, but I have to think with my head and not just listen to my emotions. I have to be smart about my decision and do what's best for me. I love Coach [Tommy] Amaker and the relationship he has with his players. He's making extreme progress returning Michigan to their glory days of the Fab Five."
So the Wolverines are the team to beat, right? Wrong. Horton actually tells The B