Lady Vols happy heralded freshman Horston still at Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jordan Horston had plenty of reasons to rethink her decision to sign with Tennessee and reopen her college selection process.
Tennessee had fired the coaches who had recruited her. She didn't know the new staff. And the Lady Vols were coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in their modern history.
Yet the 6-foot-2 guard never wavered. Now the Lady Vols are counting on the heralded freshman to help them regain their status as one of the nation's top women's college basketball programs.
"When the coaching change happened, I didn't really ever see myself leaving Tennessee because I didn't know where else I would go," Horston said Thursday during Tennessee's media day event. "Tennessee was the only school. It was my school. I chose that school for a reason and I wasn't planning on leaving."
Horston, regarded as the nation's No. 2 prospect in her class by multiple recruiting services, said Tennessee's brand and history made her want to play there.
"They had the full package in my eyes — fan base, legacy," Horston said. "I bonded with the girls when I came on my visit. Hospitality. I just felt comfortable and felt like this was the place for me."
Horston was initially recruited by Holly Warlick, who played a major part in that legacy as an assistant coach for all eight of Tennessee's national championships. Tennessee fired Warlick after an NCAA Tournament first-round exit and replaced her with Kellie Harper, who had her own role in the Lady Vols' history as a point guard on three straight national championship teams from 1996-98.
Even before she got to know Harper, Horston planned to stick with Tennessee. When Harper had dinner with Horston, it solidified the recruit's faith in that decision.
"We had a pretty quick connection, Jordan and I did," Harper said. "I'm really, really happy that her parents were willing to give me that opportunity, give me that chance."
Tennessee needs Horston to emerge as an impact player immediately. The Lady Vols return only two of their six leading scorers from last season in second-team all-SEC selection Rennia Davis and Zaay Green.
Horston has the potential to produce right away. She will make her college debut Nov. 5 when Tennessee visits East Tennessee State.
She was named the most valuable player of the McDonald's All-American Game and led her Columbus (Ohio) Africentric Early College team to a state championship while recovering from a 102-degree fever. Horston is the most notable member of a Tennessee recruiting class that includes four freshmen and a junior-college transfer.
"The sky's the limit for what she can do for our program," assistant coach Jennifer Sullivan said.
Tennessee coaches praise her competitiveness, her court vision and her willingness to pass and defend.
"Defensively she's going to be really good — and she's going to be really good early in her career," Harper said.
Horston's stock rose when she had a 6-inch growth spurt her freshman year in high school. Horston always had played guard, and now she had grown into a perimeter player with the height to cause matchup problems.
Her work ethic also has helped.
Horston's new teammates saw how she committed a turnover in practice and immediately started doing a handful of pushups to punish herself for the mistake. They appreciated the gesture.
"It's stuff like that we notice and say, 'OK, that's good. She wants to be better for the team,'" sophomore guard Rae Burrell said. "Nobody told her to do that. She just started to do it."
Horston's already showing impressive decision-making ability on the floor. But it's the choice she made during the recruiting process that eventually could help Tennessee re-establish itself as a Southeastern Conference contender.
"I feel like who I am as a person, I'm very loyal," Horston said. "If I say I'm committed somewhere, that's where I'm going to go. I can't say, 'Oh, I'm coming here,' and something happens, and boom, I chicken out and don't come. That's not who I am."