By Trey Mongrue
The mantra for LSU basketball for the past couple of seasons has been, for better or for worse, “wait ‘til next year.” Nobody felt the brunt of those words more than Keith Hornsby last year.
Stuck in the collegiate athletics’ version of purgatory after transferring to LSU from North Carolina-Asheville, Hornsby assumed the role of glorified fan during the Tigers’ 2013-14 campaign. If the Tigers were playing at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, he’d be on the bench in street clothes. For road games, he would stay back in Baton Rouge and catch the game on television or radio.
But with that season now over, and the team reconvened for summer workouts, Hornsby’s basketball career can finally resume.
“It feels great, spectacular actually,” Hornsby said of being eligible to play again. “Last year had its benefits but, like any basketball player, I want my opportunity on the court, and I’m so happy that it’s almost here and I feel like that I’m ready.”
If there is one person who may be more excited than Hornsby about the upcoming season, it’s LSU head coach Johnny Jones.
“There’s the old cliché that hard work pays off and I think in Keith’s case, there are great things in store for him,” said Jones. “He is one of the hardest workers that I have ever seen in the 30 years that I’ve been in Division I basketball.”
Jones has first-hand knowledge of Hornsby’s work ethic. While he was not able to step on the floor for games, there was nothing that was holding Hornsby back when he ran the scout team during practice.
“You knew when he was on the floor during practices last year,” Jones said of Hornsby. “He brought a significance difference in those instances and he can bring a much needed competitive edge to this team.”
“He is one of the hardest workers that I have ever seen in the 30 years that I’ve been in Division I basketball.”- LSU head coach Johnny Jones on Keith Hornsby
Often in those scout team practices, Hornsby was asked emulate the best guard of the Tigers’ upcoming opponent, whether it was Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson or one of Kentucky’s Harrison twins.
Because he was not going to see any game action, these practices were the only competitive action Hornsby would see on a basketball court for quite some time.
“The practices were my games last year, so I had to take advantage of that,” said Hornsby, the son of Grammy winning musician Bruce Hornsby. “That’s really what has developed me into this point where I am now.”
Hornsby expects his contributions to expand beyond the practice courts this upcoming season. Standing at 6-foot-4, he has already shown that he can be a high-volume scorer.
As a sophomore at UNC Asheville, he averaged 15 points a game and shot 37.9 percent from three-point range. He tallied reached double figures in points in 24 games for the Bulldogs in 2012-13, scoring 23 points against 16th-ranked North Carolina State and 26 points against 9th-ranked Ohio State.
His propensity to attack the basket saw him get to the free-throw line, where he shot 92.5 percent, good enough for second among all division one players. LSU as a team shot 66.9 percent last season and has since lost the only two players that surpassed 70-percent from the charity stripe (Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman).
Hornsby was more than happy to continue his career in Asheville, however he then decided to explore other options when his head coach, Eddie Biedenbach, resigned after the 2012-13 season.
“I had a really good sophomore year and did well against high-major opponents,” Hornsby recalled. “So I figured that I might as well explore.”
Within the two weeks that UNC Asheville granted him his full release, more than 20 schools got in contact with Hornsby. Having committed to a college at the beginning of his junior year of high school, this was the first time that he was actively being courted.
The whirlwind process culminated with him scheduling visits to North Carolina State, St. Mary’s and LSU.
Ultimately the trip to Baton Rouge made the biggest impact.
“The visit is what sold me,” he said. “I formed a great relationship with Coach Jones and the staff, plus other stuff not with basketball like the beautiful campus and the idea of going to football games which I didn’t have at Asheville.”
Having been on the campus now for a full school year, Hornsby has gotten his fill of football games at Tiger Stadium. After spending so much time in the stands and on the bench, the time for him to step back in the spotlight is almost here.
In fact, it has been 490 days since he last played in front of a crowd. So excuse him if he is having a hard time containing his excitement despite the season still more than five months away.
“I’m so ready, especially with the workouts that I feel like I’ve been doing well in,” he said. “I’m officially eligible, so let the games begin.”