The Norman Transcript

January 16, 2013

Freshman Je’lon Hornbeak learning what it means to be a true point guard

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — There’s nothing wrong with Je’lon Hornbeak’s vision, but Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger constantly asks his freshman point guard what he’s seeing. The question is asked a lot because it’s the melding process between a coach and his extension on the court.

The pair watch hours worth of game video, with the goal being that the 19-year-old guard comprehend the chaos on the floor the exact same way as his 60-year-old head coach.

“I look at all the things that I miss. You see things like a pass I could’ve made or I could have driven this guy a little harder or I could have shot it. There’s always different things I wasn’t thinking of because it was happening so fast,” Hornbeak said. “Once you look at it on film, you think to improve on it and keep an eye out for what’s happening.”

Every college point guard goes through this process. It makes their freshman season the most difficult of any player on the roster. Some pick it up by the middle of their first season. Others need several years before everything settles. Some never sync in. The ability to control the pace of a game, to swiftly recognize a defense has changed and instantly understand the risk versus reward of a pass doesn’t have an exact formula.

The game they played in high school and AAU circuit landed them a scholarship. However, they must adjust from being a basketball player — a scorer — to the one that runs the team. Kruger, who is in his 27th season as a college basketball head coach, admits it’s not a job many freshmen can handle.

“Ideally, you wouldn’t plan on that, typically,” he said. “Je’lon has a great feel for the game and that helps. He has a good feel for what’s going on.”

That will be on display when the Sooners (11-3, 2-0 Big 12) face Texas Tech (8-6, 1-2) at 7 tonight at Lloyd Noble Center.

Statistically, Hornbeak hasn’t dazzled through the first 14 games. He’s averaging just 6.2 points and 1.9 assists. Senior point guard Sam Grooms has kept the weight of the world from falling on the freshman’s shoulders thus far.

Grooms still averages 17.6 minutes and remains the assists leader with 32. But he’s taken Hornbeak under his wing. There’s a lesson every point guard has to learn.

“You have to stay even keel. You can’t get too low or too high,” Grooms said.”

Hornbeak is getting the message.

The four-star recruit, who joined Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins in the heralded class of guards in the 2012 recruiting class, has a different role. The play of point guards is graded on a different curve. Scoring, rebounding and assists don’t really matter. Coaches recruit point guards all the time with physical skills drawing them in. That last piece of the puzzle requires a leap of faith.

“Point guard is a unique position because it is about others, it’s not about you,” Kruger said. “After a ball game if the team wins, a point guard should feel great. If the team loses, the point guard should feel bad — regardless of how they do individually or statistically. You try to consider all that because it takes a unique set of traits.”

Hornbeak is developing them. He’ll start his 14th career game tonight. The Sooners have won 11 of them.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn


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