April 2, 2008

Love At First Sight? Players React To Horn Hiring

Buddha once said, "Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship."

Refreshing to know Buddha isn't the Athletics Director at South Carolina, isn't it?

Faithfulness, though important in any relationship, doesn't approach winning when it comes to major college athletcs. Winning makes sport-related relationships powerful enough to transcend anything - even un-faithfulness.

When the first day of the Darrin Horn era at USC started, many in Gamecock Nation took a 'show-me' stance, yet was willing to give the budding relationship their utmost effort.

On the surface, this seems like a match made in heaven. A point guard who loves to force the proverbial pedal to the metal and keep it there set up on a blind date, so to speak, with a coach who wants speed and length for forty minutes.

It seems like something out of a love story.

Why go fast when you can go faster?

After the press conference Tuesday at the Colonial Center in which Darrin Horn was introduced to Gamecock Nation, the fans collectively seemed ready for a second date.

Horn is an advocate of what he describes as '188 foot' basketball. Full court pressure both offensively and defensively.

The players, on the other hand, were ready to walk the aisle. More appropriately they were ready to "run" the aisle and d-up the pastor on the other end when they got there.

"I'm really looking forward to this. I think it gives us an advantage with our speed and athleticism," said Dominique Archie. "It'll be a change. The tempo will definitely be a change."

The tempo Horn will try to use with his players is fast paced both on offense and defense, where fast breaks lead to full court defense. It's a style that led the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to three straight 20 win seasons in Horn's first four years - a WKU first.

"We don't really have the biggest and strongest players, but if you can get guys up and down the floor you can put them in position to be successful," Downey said. "He told in our meeting to be ready because it's going to be hard, it's going to be change. He told us it will probably be the hardest thing we have had to deal with in our lives, but if we'll just trust him and follow his lead we'll be successful.

"When he said up-tempo, you know my eyes lit up so he's my kind of coach."

Another unusual feather in the cap of Coach Horn is his graduation rate. In five seasons at WKU, the former Academic All-American has graduated 100% of his players. That number sits well with Horn's probable new favorite player, Devan Downey.

"That's what it's all about. We're student athletes. Everybody wants to win championships, but the student side, well he said it," Downey said. "We're going to go to class and we are going to graduate. It's not optional. It shows me he's got character."

Much was made about Horn's straight forward approach with his players, never leaving any grey areas. Current WKU players raved about Horn's "out in the open" philosophy.

"He's done everything he's promised when he recruited me," said WKU standout guard Tyrone Brazelton.

Refreshingly confident in his scheme, Horn seemed to display a subtle swagger while at the microphone. Gamecock Nation should immediately think of Downey, who has his own swagger, and how the two could eventually mesh.

"With my attitude and his attitude, hopefully that will just run through the whole team," Downey said. "Hopefully the whole team will have the swagger."

One player who showed his swagger as the season progressed, Mike Holmes, is eager to lend his aggressive approach to the new pace.

"I feel pretty good right now. We've got chemistry," Holmes said. "I want to get up and down the floor and I want to pick up the defense. I think I'll really love it. I'll get to run the floor more, keep on rebounding the ball like I have and pick up the defense.

Holmes, all smiles, continued to praise his new coach, "He's got a good smile. He's younger and he should relate to us more."

Will this promising relationship lead to true love or crash and burn into another South Carolina seven year-itch? That's something even Buddha's "war chest of credibility" can't answer.

But if first impressions mean anything, the proceeding years should be fun.

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