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Horn’s smarts impress the experts

When he spoke with Darrin Horn following a first-round NIT victory two years ago at the Colonial Center, Dave Odom had no way of knowing he was shaking hands with his successor at South Carolina.

But Odom was certain he was looking at a talented, young coach on his way up in the profession.

The Gamecocks’ 74-55 victory against Western Kentucky in the 2006 NIT was one of the few times Odom and Horn crossed paths. Still, Odom is confident the man following him at USC has the makeup to succeed.

“I remember watching those tapes of his team play and saying to myself and to my staff, ‘This team is a good team because their coach has coached them well and prepared them well,’ ” Odom said Tuesday during a layover en route to the Final Four in San Antonio.

“Even though we won that game that night, I came out of the game saying Darrin’s a bright, young coach who’s always going to be successful because he coaches his team with enthusiasm. He has a good relationship with his players, and he had his team well prepared offensively and defensively.”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas also was impressed with Horn’s preparation during their first meeting. Horn was a 20-something Marquette assistant working on Tom Crean’s staff.

“Smart, energetic, organized, really together. I thought he was going to be very good,” Bilas recalled. “I wasn’t surprised with what he did at Western Kentucky.”

The 35-year-old Horn was 111-48 in five seasons at Western Kentucky, leading his alma mater to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last week. Horn’s five-year deal with USC includes an interesting clause that calls for Horn to receive bonuses if the Gamecocks’ season-ticket sales increase.

Wright Waters, commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference, expects Horn to collect those bonuses.

“He’s a gem. We will miss him,” Waters said. “He plays a style of ball that’s fun to watch. They’ll put people in the stands because they’ll run up and down the court, they’ll play defense. He does a great job of selling the system.”

Waters praised Horn for his intelligence. Besides helping the Hilltoppers reach the Sweet 16 as a player in 1993, Horn was a third-team Academic All-American.

“In a lot of ways he’s a gym rat,” Waters said. “But he’s a gym rat that can talk about politics or world peace.”

Bilas sees similarities in Horn and Crean, expected to be named Indiana’s new coach today. “The organization and the attention to detail and how energetic and enthusiastic they are — I think they’re very similar in that regard,” he said.

Odom said he was equally impressed with Horn as a person following the NIT game.

“He was gracious in losing. He was complimentary of our team,” Odom said. “I was just impressed with the whole experience that week in watching him coach and watching him relate to his team.”

Now Odom’s team will be Horn’s. The two did not get speak before Horn was announced, but Odom left behind a handwritten note for the Gamecocks’ new coach.

“I left him a note on his desk so when he goes in there, he’ll see the note,” Odom said. “I congratulated him and welcomed him and I offered my help if he wants to talk to me.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.