Getting to Know DJ Horne
Written by Zackary Teats, a fellow with the John McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative working for Sun Devil Athletics.
This year's Sun Devil men's basketball team features almost an entirely new look. Coach Hurley and his staff made a concerted effort this offseason to recruit players that could make an immediate impact on the court and those efforts resulted in the Sun Devils adding multiple transfers, along with the 2020 recruiting class. One of those transfers, sophomore guard DJ Horne, is looking to help bring the Sun Devils back to the top ranks of the Pac-12.
"Outside of just getting better and facing better competition, I just wanted to be part of a program that's focused on winning," said Horne when talking about his decision to transfer to Arizona State. DJ, who is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, also couldn't resist the chance to play for Coach Bobby Hurley, who played for the school that he grew up idolizing. "Growing up in Raleigh, he (Coach Hurley) played for Coach K, for Duke, that was my favorite team to watch, and he played in the NBA, so the chance to learn from someone like him is what ultimately led me to come here."
On top of his desire to play for Coach Hurley, DJ is here because of his proven talent on both sides of the ball, which he says has taken years of hard work and practice to develop. "I started playing basketball in the fifth grade. When I first started, I wasn't great at all but you know, hard work pays off, that's what you always hear, so I just kept working at it and started to get good around high school."
DJ comes from a state that boasts some of the most competitive high school basketball in the country. Most of his AAU and high school tournaments had a plethora of college coaches showing up to scout the talent. "North Carolina is a hoops state, playing high school ball there is a grind. We had a lot of high major tournaments, the John Wall Classic, we played in that, all the local schools would be there, Duke, NC State, UNC, they were always there, so you had to show up every time."
Despite playing in a state championship game and showing steady development as a player throughout his high school career, DJ didn't have any big-time colleges knocking on his door. "I was a little under-recruited, but I feel like that fueled me and put that chip on my shoulder," said Horne. So when the time came to decide where to play college ball, DJ chose Illinois State, a school in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) that showed interest in him early on, which was something he appreciated. "They were the first school that offered me, the fact that they took that chance on me when no one else would, that meant a lot to me, so that's what ultimately led me there."
DJ had the opportunity to play right away as a freshman with ISU and he took full advantage. He made the MVC All-Freshman team his first year and was Third-Team All MVC after his sophomore campaign. He averaged 15.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 2.7 APG while shooting 42.4% from the three-point line and 85.4% from the free throw line. He also led his team in steals (35) during his second season with ISU. "It was a good two years there, I learned a lot. I had to grow up quickly and I feel like it prepared me for now, coming to a better conference with better competition," said Horne.
In the early stages of the season, DJ has already shown that he brings value to this Sun Devil team. Despite the slow start to the 2021-2022 campaign, DJ has demonstrated his ability to score and be a difference-maker on the court. DJ is leading the Sun Devils in scoring with 13.1 PPG while shooting 46.4% from the field and 41.4% from the three-point line. He is also shooting 100% (11-11) from the free throw line this season and is a career 83.5% free throw shooter.
This level of shooting is simply what DJ expects from himself and something that he believes his teammates and Sun Devil fans can expect from him all season long. "I'm looking to just be someone who's accountable, my teammates know what they're going to get from me. I just want to bring that spark to the team, whether it be with my scoring, my defense, whatever it is, I want to be able to just bring that spark, just be a dog on the court," said Horne.
That mentality has proven to be necessary for this group. Through the first 11 games, the Sun Devils are off to a 5-6 start (1-1 in conference play). DJ is not necessarily surprised by the team's record and says that when you have a new team like this, it's a process to get everything together. "We definitely are growing as a team. I knew coming in that it would take some time to get everything to click and be a well-oiled machine," said Horne while talking about the start of the season. "I think we've taken our lumps early on, for sure. We had a brief losing streak and during that time I felt like we were learning a lot about ourselves and what it takes to really be good in this conference."
Not only have the Sun Devils had to learn a lot early on, but they've also had to face strong competition right out the gate. After beating Creighton on Dec. 14th, the Sun Devils have concluded a nine-game stretch where they faced seven 2021 NCAA Tournament teams. This is quite the gauntlet for a team that has never played together, but DJ feels that it's important to not get too hyped up against these high major teams. "For me personally, I try to take every game one-by-one. I tell myself they put on their shoes and uniform the same way I do, so no matter who it is I try and bring my best game," said Horne.
It seems that this approach is working for DJ as he has had his best performances so far against some of the toughest competition that the Sun Devils have faced. Horne had 20 points and a career-high 6 threes in the loss to Baylor, the defending national champions, and he had an impressive 23 point performance in the overtime win against Oregon, the reigning Pac-12 champions, where he also hit the overtime forcing three. These are the type of games and moments that DJ says he came to Arizona State for. "I feel like I've shown my teammates that I can make big shots like that and I want them to be able to trust me in those moments, just like I trust them," said Horne. "I think those moments are what build strong chemistry and we need that experience in order to be good down the stretch."
It is becoming clear that the chemistry DJ talks about is starting to come together. The Sun Devils are in the midst of a three-game win streak after two gutsy road performances against Oregon and Creighton and a strong win at home against GCU. These are good wins for the Sun Devils to gain some momentum and DJ feels the patience and trust in the process are starting to pay off. "That Oregon win was a big one for us, I feel like it was that spark we needed to go ahead and start turning things around," said Horne. "We just have to stay focused. When success starts to come we can't get too big-headed, we have to take it in stride and not get too high, otherwise, we can go back to the way the season started."
In the preseason media rankings for the Pac-12, the Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh in the conference. DJ is used to being the underdog and has no problem with being in that position. "This is basically a brand new team, the majority of the team is from the east coast, so people don't really know us out here," said Horne. "You just love to see it, you know, what the media thinks, what the fans think, it just gives you more fuel to go out and prove them wrong, and I think we got a hungry group that can do that this year."
Only time will tell what the Sun Devils are able to accomplish this year. The season started slow but the team is starting to show signs that they will be a competitive team come conference play. DJ is looking forward to that stretch of the season and says that the support from Sun Devil nation will be huge moving forward. "I think the best is yet to come. They (the fans) have every right to be disappointed with the way the season started, but just be patient with us. The best is yet to come. If you're a Sun Devil fan, get back in the arena soon, cause I think things are about to really take off."