Jan. 26, 2004
There are a lot of words to describe sophomore point guard Jeff Horner, but workhorse seems to be the best.
Horner has started every one of the games he’s played so far as a Hawkeye, he’s averaged 36 minutes through the first 13 games of the season, and he can put up some offensive numbers that could make a forward envious.
“Our offense hasn’t been up to par this year, and our defense has really been our backbone. If we can get our offense clicking like we have in the past, then we can be a really good team.”
Iowa guard Jeff Horner
At Minnesota on Jan. 13, Horner made 3-of-5 from outside the arc and hit 5-of-8 from the field and 10-of-11 from the line for a career-high 23 points to pace the Iowa squad.
Hitting 91 percent from the line and 62.5 percent from the field are important marks for Horner, who currently averages 39.2 from the field and 80 percent from the line, while still managing 10.2 points per game.
“Free throws have definitely been our Achilles’ heel,” said Horner. “We go to the free throw line a lot as a team and if we miss those it takes away a lot of our offense. Our offense hasn’t been up to par this year, and our defense has really been our backbone. If we can get our offense clicking like we have in the past, then we can be a really good team.”
For his part, the 6-foot-3 Mason City, IA.-native, has been working especially hard on his shooting in practices recently, even though as a prep he scored 2,194 points, which puts him ninth on Iowa’s all-time scoring list.
“I’ve been shooting a lot in practices and after, and they’re going to eventually fall,” Horner said. “I just put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, and that’s the way a lot of people are on this team.
“I think I’ve been shooting the ball all right, but I started out the season pretty bad and it’s hard to bring that percentage back up. I know I can shoot the ball, and I’m not going to let anything bother me.”
Horner admits, though, that technique is not the downfall of the Hawkeye team.
“I think about 95 percent of it is all mental,” he said. “Out of high school, you can shoot the ball, and I think this year I’ve taken more of a point guard role in just distributing and trying not to turn the ball over too much and do what it takes to win.”
“Other than a broken ankle, I know that Jeff will give me a 150 percent,” Head Coach Steve Alford said recently. “As long as I don’t hear bones crack, I don’t worry about the ligaments because I know he’s too tough mentally to let anything bother him.”
But that mental toughness has been developed through a year of training as a freshman, and according to Horner, there is a big difference between being a first- and second-year starter.
“As a freshman, you’re just trying to learn everything and now this year I can be more talkative and tell people where they should go and what to do,” he said. “I think I get a little more respect this year because I’m a little older. People listen and it just feels good to know that your team-mates have respect for you.”
Horner earned his stripes last year with 140 assists, the most ever by an Iowa freshman in a single season. And with 255 points, 137 rebounds and 140 assists, he is the Hawkeyes’ eighth player with over 200 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists in a single season.
He’s also on pace to break those numbers this season.
“When you look at the all-around game, he can do a lot for you,” said Alford. “(Our players) really feed off of him. He’ll make a bad pass and sometimes recover the loose ball bad pass.
“We’re very fortunate to have him leading our club.”
Horner says the biggest change between the years, outside of his solidified leadership position, is learning how to take better care of his body.
“Nobody knows how much of a grind it is until you’re actually here,” he said. “Sometimes last year it didn’t even feel like I was playing basketball, but this year every game I’ve been playing I’ve known what I was doing and I was right there.”
The fact Horner is now more physically complete is a very good thing for Coach Alford, who may have to play the sophomore for more and more minutes as the team rebounds from line-up alterations. Against Louisville last November, Horner was able to play for 45 minutes through the game and overtime.
“To be honest with you, he’s the kind of guy who can easily play 40,” said Alford. “He’s just really good and he’s really competitive, and I think he’s maturing into someone who can play extended minutes. I think it’s a lot tougher to wear down a Jeff Horner, and we’re going to keep him out there as long as we can.”
“That’s fine with me,” said Horner. “I did it last year when I really wasn’t ready for it. I think I’m a lot more ready than I was last year. This year, I’m taking a lot better care of my body and I’ll be able to play all those minutes and not die like I did last year.”