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The new face of USC hoops

When he started looking for a new coach more than two months ago, USC athletics director Eric Hyman made it clear that he wanted someone young, up-and-coming and energetic.

In Darrin Horn, who will be introduced today as the Gamecocks new men’s basketball coach, Hyman may or may not have hired his first choice. But he seems to have stayed locked in on his desired profile.

Horn, 35, leaves Western Kentucky a few days after leading his alma mater to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

The news conference to introduce Horn has been delayed two hours because of the inclement weather in Columbia, preventing the university's plane from leaving on time to pick up Horn in Kentucky.

The news conference is now scheduled for 3 p.m. today at The Colonial Center, a few hours after the school’s board of trustees is scheduled to vote on Horn’s contract.

Hyman was expected to tell the team about its new coach Monday night during its postseason banquet. When approached beforehand, he declined to confirm the hiring.

“It’s inappropriate for me to comment on that at this moment,” Hyman said.

Horn also could not be reached for comment. But multiple sources at USC confirmed that Horn was the choice, and Horn told Western Kentucky’s president that he has accepted the job, according to multiple media reports in Bowling Green, Kent.

Horn is expected to sign a four- or five-year deal with a base salary in the range of $750,000, according to a source. That is a substantial raise over Horn’s annual salary of $157,000 at Western Kentucky. He was signed for three more years and reportedly has a buyout of $200,000.

WKU athletics director Wood Selig told WBKO, an ABC affiliate in Bowling Green, that he felt the school “made a competitive offer” to keep Horn.

While USC’s players weren’t free to talk yet, the Gamecocks’ lone committed recruit for next season was excited. Darius Morrow, a forward from Atlanta, said he remembered seeing Horn on “SportsCenter” after Western Kentucky’s last-second shot to beat Drake in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“It’s a good move. I don’t really know too much about him, but I watched the games when they were on TV,” Morrow said. “He comes from a winning program.”

The selection of Horn ends a process that began Jan. 18, when coach Dave Odom announced he would retire at the end of the season. Odom said Monday night he never spoke to Horn or any other candidates about the job.

Hyman was guarded about the candidate list, though a few names leaked.

Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, 33, was the focus of speculation until he agreed to a new contract late last week. Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant, 41, contacted someone close to the team last week about the vacancy, according to a source.

It was unclear whether Grant’s interest went beyond the call or whether the inquiry came too late in USC’s deliberations.

Horn was on the candidate list South Carolina drew up at the beginning of the search, according to a source. But Hyman had to wait to interview him until after Thursday, when Western Kentucky was eliminated by UCLA in the NCAA tournament. Horn interviewed over the weekend.

Former Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler, a friend of Horn’s, played a role in helping gauge Horn’s interest, according to several sources.

Horn spent five years as coach at Western Kentucky, where he came after spending four years as an assistant at Marquette. Horn returned to Western Kentucky to replace Dennis Felton, who left for Georgia.

Horn and Felton will now face each other twice next season. Horn might also have four games against Western Kentucky, due to a clause in his contract that calls for any program that hires him to schedule two home-and-home series with WKU over a four-year period.

The Hilltoppers went 111-48 under Horn, who incurred the ire of some fans by not reaching the NCAA tournament until this season. He guided the team to two NIT berths, including 2006, when his team ended its season at the Colonial Center with a loss to South Carolina.

Horn has another connection to the state: One of his incoming recruits to Western Kentucky is small forward Bryan Narcisse from North Augusta High. But if Narcisse wanted to follow Horn to USC he would have to be released from his letter-of-intent. Even if that happens, the Gamecocks already have plenty of wing players.

Whether or not it was a factor in his decision, Horn seems to be leaving WKU at the right time. This year’s team had six seniors, including three starters, and the six accounted for nearly two-thirds of the team’s points this season.

Meanwhile he takes over a South Carolina program that loses one senior — swingman Dwayne Day — and returns first-team all-SEC point guard Devan Downey, who will be a junior. The Gamecocks went 14-18 this season but had second-half leads in eight of their losses.

Horn’s style of play also seems suited to the Gamecocks’ roster, which has long lacked a consistent inside force. Horn focused on a perimeter-style attack at Western Kentucky, without the need for many post players. His Web site, www.darrinhorn.com, outlines a philosophy of full-court, trapping defense, along with quick transition offense and 3-point shooting.

“I believe we are one of the best conditioned teams in the country, and I believe that with our up-tempo style of play and our pressure defense we will wear down our opponent night in and night out,” Horn says on his site. “I tell our guys we might not wear them down the first 5 minutes of the game, maybe not the first half, but eventually, if we keep the pressure up, we will wear them down and be able to take control of the game.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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