Six years ago, Western Kentucky athletics director Wood Selig figured his men's basketball coach, Dennis Felton, was a short-timer. So Selig decided to get something out of the situation, inserting a clause in Felton's contract that required the team that hired him to play WKU in each of four seasons.
"It's a way a coach can say thank you ... and remember the institution that helped springboard them to other opportunities," Selig said Monday.
That clause - which was copied by other smaller schools - was a part of Darrin Horn's contract at WKU and is the reason the South Carolina coach will see a lot of familiar faces tonight.
There will be three Western Kentucky players Horn coached before leaving for USC in 2008. There will be Selig, his former boss. And there will be several hundred Hilltoppers fans who made the trip.
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And, of course, the memories.
"It's my alma mater," Horn said. "I met my wife there. I got my first coaching job there. I got my first head coaching job there. It's been a great place for me, without question. A lot of special people and just a great situation, and I'll always be grateful for that. It'll stay that way."
But, Horn said, there can be no sentiment tonight. Especially with the Gamecocks missing two of their best players due to injuries, and the Hilltoppers boasting one of the finest mid-major programs around.
Horn went 111-48 at Western Kentucky, leading it to the NCAA Sweet 16 in his final season. Some Hilltoppers fans grumbled that Horn should have reached the NCAAs sooner.
Horn will take his new team back to WKU next year as part of the contract clause. But Selig believes any hard feelings have dissipated.
"I think people will realize everything Darrin has done for WKU and will be very appreciative of everything Darrin and his wife have done for the institution."
Horn recruited and coached WKU star point guard A.J. Slaughter and fellow starters Steffphon Pettigrew and Jeremy Evans.
"You're going against some kids that you care about," Horn said. "I've been in several of those kids' homes and coached them for a few years and know their families and know what kind of people they are and want to see them do well - but we don't want to see them do well (tonight.)"
WKU coach Ken McDonald, a former Clemson assistant, thinks his players will be motivated.
"There's a lot of excitement. Our players are pretty fired up," McDonald said. "This is a chance to play against somebody they had as a coach at some point. It's just another game, but there are a lot of story lines in the background."
South Carolina will travel to Western Kentucky next year then host again in 2011, followed by a trip to WKU in 2012.