Head men’s basketball coach Darrin Horn is looking to make NKU the hardest place to play in the Horizon League. Through the summer, he’s prepared his team to play a more competitive schedule, and wants Norse Nation to match the energy.
“We need a thousand students in BB&T Arena,” Horn said. “I’m telling you, we can transform into one of the most feared places in college basketball play.”
This year’s non-conference schedule includes Ball State, Southern Texas and a few other schools new to NKU’s radar. The team is upping the challenge to prepare for the end stretch of the season.
“In the last three years, we’ve only beaten one non-conference team that was ranked higher than us, so we really want to try to take some steps with that,” Horn said. “The most important thing is that no matter who we’re playing, especially come conference season, we need a thousand students in the gym.”
The team’s first preseason stop was the U.S. Virgin Islands trip from Aug. 6-11. Horn looks at this as an opportunity to not only grow on the court, but for the team to bond closer together.
Health has been a lingering question for a few players. From senior guard Tyler Sharpe’s shoulder surgery at the end of last season, to Jalen Tate being spotted adorning a cast on his right wrist this summer, fans are worried—but it’s summer ball, so don’t dwell on bumps and bruises for too long. The most extensive injuries are projected to be remedied by the start of basketball season.
“You know, the only guy that has a major injury that we’re kind of looking at ‘When can we get him back?’ is Adrian [Nelson],” Horn said.
The key is keeping the team healthy throughout the season to make it to February and March “where it really matters.”
Every year, it’s clear the Norse are hungry for a win in the Division I NCAA Tournament. Horn emphasized the team is focused on staying in The Big Dance, not just making a one-and-done appearance. Horn went all in when it came to summer practice, and highlighted elite shape and player development from the first day.
“I think you’re starting to see some guys really expand their game. A guy like Traevon Faulkner comes to mind immediately,” Horn said.
Horn, a Kentucky native, has returned to the Bluegrass State after a packed summer including moving, recruiting and practice.
“It’s been a great summer and we’ve been able to get on the floor with our guys a lot,” Horn said. “My family is here now; we’re loving life in Northern Kentucky.”
Over the summer, Horn traveled to New York City for the NBA Draft with Jaxson Hayes, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, who he coached during his time at University of Texas. Hayes, a Cincinnati, Ohio native, was drafted 8th overall in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks, and was traded on draft day to the New Orleans Pelicans. Horn is grateful for the experience and hopes that what he teaches at NKU will prepare Norse men for a possible path to the NBA.
For all the LeBron James fans on campus, you’ll be happy to know that Coach Horn personally ranks him number one all time. “I think [James] makes other players better … I think I would go LeBron, Jordan, Kobe.”
In Horn’s first few months, it’s clear he aims to take NKU men’s basketball program to new heights—and wants to take Norse Nation along for the ride with him.