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Horn takes rough first months at USC in stride

Darrin Horn may have expected his welcome-to-Columbia, or welcome-to-the-big-time moment to arrive. In the two-and-a-half months since he was hired as USC’s coach, Horn has received five:

The Gamecocks’ lone recruit bolted. Another recruit, who Horn had signed at Western Kentucky, got his release and ended up at Horn’s new rival, Clemson.

One current player transferred after being told he wasn’t in the team’s plans, and another was dismissed. And although it was a minor incident that since has been resolved, his best player was arrested.

“A lot of fun, huh?” Horn said with a laugh Thursday.

Horn, 35, shrugged off most of what has happened as normal to a transition. When he was hired at Western Kentucky five years ago, his best player, guard Patrick Sparks, came into his office and told him he was transferring to Kentucky. Horn also points to Indiana, whose new coach Tom Crean he calls a mentor, and who has seen almost every current player leave.

“I think that’s how life is in general, it’s dealing with things,” Horn said. “Obviously we had a bunch come at us early on that in a perfect world you’d prefer not to have. It doesn’t (have) me feeling like things aren’t going good, or make me any less excited about where we’re headed or the possibilities here. And so we just move on with it.”

Horn inherits a team that has had two consecutive losing seasons but returns the core of a team that lost several close games last season. Former coach Dave Odom, who retired, left some pieces to work with.

Point guard Devan Downey, whose misdemeanor arrest was resolved last week, was a first-team All-SEC pick. And while Horn has signed no new players, the departed players weren’t supposed to be part of the core.

The two players who left — Trevor Deloach and Chad Gray — were not factors last season. The recruit, Darius Morrow, was not supposed to be an impact player as a freshman. The same goes for Bryan Narcisse, the former Western Kentucky recruit who apparently was not offered a spot at USC.

Still, Horn declined to say what the expectations for his first year should be, saying the focus should just be on getting the players to work hard.

“It depends on, after when we start working with these guys, are we going to get them to compete, are we going to get them to play hard all the time?” Horn said. “I think there are some pieces there. But we need consistency, and we need improvement in all areas.”

The new coach also addressed some other issues:

 It appears USC will not be the visiting team for the first game at College of Charleston’s new arena. That school had a scheduling conflict, but Horn anticipates playing there at some point this season “out of respect for coach (Bobby) Cremins and all that he’s meant for this program.”

USC still has three open games, in addition to three scheduled games with no dates.

Horn tried to schedule North Carolina State, but that school was not as interested. Horn said he wasn’t having much luck getting another high-major team, leaving Clemson as the only one currently scheduled. The Gamecocks also will go to Princeton.

Odom had been working on scheduling a home-and-home with Gonzaga, but Horn chose not to follow through.

“You’ve gotta go all the way to the West Coast. I’m not a big fan of that,” Horn said. “I think we lost a game this year (at Western Kentucky) because of that.”

 Horn said he made clear to guard Robert Wilder, a walk-on who was awarded a scholarship, that it may be a one-year deal.

“We told him, don’t know if we can do it next year, so let’s go ahead and do it this year while we still have them, no promises after that,” Horn said.

 It’s almost certain that the team will have no new players. Horn said he once once signed an international player in July and it would probably have to be a similar situation.

“We had one we were working on, but it didn’t work out,” he said.

 Horn heaped praise on third assistant Mike Boynton, the former Gamecocks guard who was hired last month.

“Mike Boynton will be mayor or governor one day,” Horn said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy as well-received as he has been. The bonus for me on that is that’s just an added thing that’s neat for me to watch, a former player be respected and adored like he is. I think that’s great, and encourages me about this place. Because from a business standpoint, we have a young star on our hands.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.