‘It’s good to be home’

Joe Lord

This was a baseball day. The national anthem played on an organ over the loudspeaker. A brisk breeze fluttered an American flag in center field.

A tall, athletic man approached the mound and threw a pitch straight into the catcher’s mitt.

“I was just glad I didn’t fall or hit the catcher in the toes or head,” said Darrin Horn, who threw the first pitch of Western’s baseball game last night at Denes Field.

But baseball isn’t Horn’s game. He likes his sports indoors.

Horn, a 1995 graduate, was introduced Tuesday night in the Diddle Arena Hall of Champions as the 12th men’s basketball head coach at Western.

“It’s good to be home,” Horn said after Athletic Director Wood Selig introduced him to 200 Hilltopper faithful in Diddle’s Hall of Champions.

Horn, 30, replaces Dennis Felton, who resigned April 9 to accept the head coaching position at the University of Georgia. Horn comes to the Hill after four seasons at Marquette, where he was an assistant under head coach Tom Crean.

Marquette assistant Dwayne Stephens said Horn played a big role in their Final Four appearance this year.

“He’s very good at dissecting teams and being able to figure out what team’s weaknesses are,” Stephens said. “I think he will be a very good bench coach. He’s had a great teacher in Tom Crean.”

Horn beat out Texas assistant Frank Haith, Western assistant Pete Herrmann and Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard.

Age wasn’t a factor in Horn’s hiring, Selig said. During the search process, Horn faxed Western a list of prominent coaches who succeeded early in life, including Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Memphis head coach John Calipari.

Horn’s teachers were factors that pushed him over the top, Selig said. His college coach, Willard, took him to one point.

“Then he coached under Tom Crean at Marquette for four years,” Selig said. “Tom of the Tom Izzo bloodline, and that certainly is a hot bloodline right now.”

Izzo is the head coach at Michigan State.

Being an alumnus also helped Horn.

“He can speak to all different levels,” Selig said. “To our recruits, to our student athletes, to our alumni. It was just a package that nobody else could bring, and we felt it was a winning combination that we really needed to secure for Western.”

Horn said the Hilltopper faithful will find an up-tempo and pressing team.

“We are not going to be outworked by anybody in America,” he said. “I don’t care what conference you’re in. I don’t care who’s on you’re schedule. We’re going to work harder than any other basketball team in college basketball.

“We’re going to be relentless in our pursuit of continuing to improve Western Kentucky basketball.”

President Gary Ransdell said Horn can peak students’ interest in the basketball program.

“The students are going to love this guy,” Ransdell said, pointing out that students aren’t far removed in age from Horn.

The players attended the news conference and joined Horn at the podium after he addressed the fans in Diddle.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Horn,” sophomore guard Patrick Sparks said.

Sparks said Tuesday night that he hadn’t decided whether he will transfer.

Horn said he had not been able to sit with the players and recruits to talk about their plans. By last night, he had talked with all the healthy players.

“It’s been good,” he said. “They’ve all worked extremely hard. They’ve all had great attitudes. They’ve shown a real willingness to learn and again get better.”

In one coup for the Golden Eagles, Stephens said, Horn recruited blue chip forward Steve Novak – a success some thought impossible.

“He’s a coach who feels like he should get the best players,” Stephens said.

Horn said last night that he wants to recruit players from the Bluegrass State.

“The teams I was on had a real Kentucky flavor,” he said. “That’s something that’s important to me.”

Horn has not set a timetable for hiring a coaching staff. Felton has said he would like to take his entire coaching staff from Western.

Horn was joined at the announcement by his 2-year-old daughter, Caroline, and his wife, who is expecting their second child next month.

“This is home for me,” Horn said. “It’s where I met my wife and where I graduated from. This is where my heart is. This is where my pride is, and this is where my passion is.”

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected].com.