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April 17, 2009

Horn in Florence: We're not done yet

FLORENCE -- South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn was rejuvenated, enthusiastic and glad to see everybody who came up to pump his right hand on Thursday, at the first of seven "Carolina Now" tour stops from now until May 20.

Why shouldn't he be? For the first time in a long, long time, folks are excited about Gamecock basketball.

"I should be clapping for you all," Horn told a crowd of around 500 at the Florence Civic Center, after a standing ovation was quieted and seated. "We're not done yet. We're going to keep building, keep growing."

Sharing a dais with football coach Steve Spurrier, assistant women's basketball coach Carla McGhee and athletics director Eric Hyman, Horn thanked the crowd for its support and promised the Gamecocks would keep on keeping on. After a short highlight video -- naturally showcasing the Gamecocks' buzzer-beating wins over Baylor, Alabama and Florida (which drew another round of applause) -- Horn spoke of his incoming recruiting class and what the Gamecocks could expect next year.

"We want to compete for championships and we want to be in the NCAA tournament," he said. "We didn't do that this year."

USC missed the NCAAs but did win a piece of a championship, tying Tennessee for the SEC East title. Horn signed four recruits for next season and expects each to contend for immediate playing time, adding to an experienced group.

That is, should guard Devan Downey and forward Dominique Archie return, after placing their names in early consideration for the NBA. Neither has hired an agent but will go through the NBA workout process.

Horn said his goal was only to guide Archie and Downey through the procedure, gathering as much information as possible to help the players in their decisions. When Downey declared, Horn went to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament to talk over the player's draft status with scouts, and also used the time to inquire about Archie and all of his other players.

"I was doing that already," Horn said. "Not just for (Archie), but for Mike (Holmes) and Sam (Muldrow) and our other guys."

Archie said in a statement that he has every intention of returning to school for his senior year. Downey has more accolades than Archie, but his lack of height may hinder his goal to reach the pros this year.

Each has until June 15 to withdraw his name with no penalty. Teams can begin inviting players to workouts on April 30.

"Our job is to support our young men," Horn said.

Horn listed each member of his recruiting class and what the fans could expect to see from each of them, and didn't close the door on signing another player for next season. The Gamecocks have 13 scholarships and all of those are currently committed, but should a player that can help the team become available soon, guard Robert Wilder could be returned to walk-on status.

He didn't sign the nation's No. 2 recruit, as women's coach Dawn Staley did with prep star Kelsey Bone, but feels good about the class he took.

"If Dawn wanted me to one-up her, she got me," Horn said. "It's ongoing all the time. You're always recruiting."

After Hyman spoke of his vision for USC's new athletic village (featuring a basketball practice facility), which will be built beside the in-construction academic enrichment center, Horn also talked about his schedule for next season. Already committed are games with Baylor, Clemson, Western Kentucky, Furman and Wofford and Horn is looking for some more.

"Our schedule for next year," he began. "Duke, North Carolina ... why's everybody laughing?"

The schedule is not finalized but Horn is looking to add some impressive names to the list. While the Blue Devils and national champion Tar Heels won't be on the slate, Horn wants to get some other names on there so if the Gamecocks win enough games, the RPI and strength of schedule won't be deterrents on the team's NCAA tournament resume.

With the technical stuff out of the way, Horn turned the mic over to Spurrier, who said, "I know basketball's in good hands. Dawn Staley and Darrin Horn have got it rolling."

Horn, before he left the podium, returned the favor.

"I'm jacked about football," he said. "I was at the spring game."



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