When Darrin Horn took the job as head coach of the South Carolina basketball team roughly two months ago, he knew he faced a long road ahead.
Over the last decade, South Carolina has only managed one NCAA appearance and has lost at least 10 SEC games eight times.
Not exactly Westwood type stuff.
With that in mind, Horn had to make some tough decisions.
South Carolina’s previous coach, Dave Odom, signed only one player for this upcoming season, Darius Morrow, a big man from Atlanta. And while Morrow never waffled from his commitment to USC after the coaching change, Horn and his staff did not share the same sentiments.
So just like that, Morrow was released from his letter of intent—and off to East Carolina he went.
Similarly, after evaluating his team, Horn felt red-shirt freshman shooting guard Trevor Deloach, who never played this past season, would not fit into the team’s plans.
And this is where the situation gets tricky.
While Morrow could easily sign with another team, Deloach was stuck in somewhat of a no-man’s land. To play at another Division I school, Deloach would have to sit out a second year in a row. So in order to play right away, Deloach decided to head to Chipola Junior College in Florida.
While Deloach has publicly stated that he is out to prove Horn wrong, time will tell who is the better judge of this young man’s basketball talent.
Finally, Horn dismissed sophomore forward Chad Gray, whose time at South Carolina was often characterized as underachieving.
All of these decisions were tough, as no head coach wants to tell a hardworking and talented young man, let alone three, that he is not wanted.
But for Horn, the mission is clear: Set the groundwork for the future.
Horn insists that his transition to Columbia has been “good” and that he has “really enjoyed getting to know people in South Carolina," but no matter how confident Horn is, he has to be wondering if he can in fact pull this off.
Despite the media circus that follows college basketball, we sometimes forget that these players are just kids. And when three teammates and friends get booted from your team, animosity toward the man who did the booting is surely to follow.
So like every new coach, Horn faces the challenge of discovering a new city, continuing to recruit, building the name of South Carolina basketball, and, most importantly, creating trust with his players.
To help with the latter, Horn recently awarded two South Carolina walk-ons, Branden Conrad and Robert Wilder, scholarships for this upcoming season.
The move gives USC 11 scholarship players for next season.
As for recruiting, Horn passed on going for a quick-fix this year, and while he did make late runs at a few big-time players (namely Milton Jennings, Devin Booker, and Khris Middleton), Horn and his staff are gearing up for 2009 and 2010, targeting top players from both in and out of state.
Making Horn’s job that much more difficult is that South Carolina is traditionally talent-poor for basketball recruiting and is sandwiched between North Carolina and Georgia—two states full of top-notch recruits every year.
The men who preceded Horn gradually found out how hard it is to recruit top-notch basketball players to South Carolina, but then again, there’s also that problem known as Oliver Purnell, who is essentially clearing up with in-state recruiting at Clemson of all places.
Horn and his staff blanketed the AAU scene on their arrival, and they have been fervently laying a foundation with high school coaches as well.
But it appears Horn will have to be dead-on with his player evaluations while trying to beat other teams to the punch with younger players. South Carolina will also greatly benefit from finding a few sleepers, especially of the in-state variety.
No matter the task, one thing’s for sure: Horn and his staff are basketball all day, every day.
Now we’ll see if the results meet the expectations.