When he was hired at USC two years ago, Darrin Horn blanched when others said he walked into a good situation. Yes, everyone was back, but from a team that won 14 games.
Horn remembered that Friday, when the subject was broached of a rebuilding season for the Gamecocks, who next year lose star Devan Downey and at least one other senior starter. This time, Horn pointed out, they come off having won 15 games.
"Rebuild what? We're not rebuilding from (where) we won 25 games and we all got to enjoy the NCAA tournament this year," Horn said.
Instead, Horn returned to his recurring theme of building a program. He pointed to the incoming recruiting class, a transfer becoming eligible, and the two best freshmen from this season.
He also pointed to Murray State - the mid-major from Kentucky that knocked off Vanderbilt in Thursday's first round of the NCAA tournament. Horn spoke to a friend on the Murray State staff after the the game-winning, last-second shot, and said it offered a lesson: The shot was made by the first recruit that staff made, the same circumstance as Horn's Western Kentucky team did two years ago.
But it took a few years for it to materialize.
"Unless you're North Carolina or Kentucky . . . just rolling out players and coaching them up, there's a lot more to it than that," Horn said.
The other notables from Horn's news conference:
- The coach said it would be impossible to replace the leadership and the 20 points per game from Downey, a three-time first-team All-SEC pick. But Ramon Galloway, a freshman this season, or incoming recruits Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith have Horn's confidence in taking over the point guard role.
"We'll be a different kind of team next year, and I think, in a lot of ways, that's kind of exciting," Horn said. "We'll have more depth. We'll be more athletic. We'll have some guys who'll be challenged to step up."
- Horn expects forward Malik Cooke, a transfer from Nevada who sat out this season, to have an immediate impact.
"He's already (played consistently) at a high level at a really good program that's won big. And he did it every day for us in practice," Horn said. "So I don't think there's any doubt that he'll step in right away and compete for a starting spot and be a major part of what we're doing."
- Galloway and fellow newcomer Lakeem Jackson were singled out for praise by Horn. The coach pointed out Galloway averaged 14 points per game down the stretch. Of Jackson, he said: "I don't think there was a freshman in the country, barring some of the special ones that are out there that won't be in college basketball next year, that were more consistent than Lakeem Jackson."
- The schedule will include home games against Clemson and Boston College, and the team is looking for one more high-major opponent. The Gamecocks probably will not be in a tournament, but will play host to Wofford and travel to Western Kentucky.
"I think everybody knows how good Wofford is now, and they've got a lot of guys back," Horn said.