Hornsby focuses on getting healthy after painful senior season, awaits basketball opportunity

Norm Wood
Contact Reporternwood@dailypress.com
While playing hurt this past season, Hornsby finished second in scoring for LSU with 13.1 points per game

It’s been a long seven months for Keith Hornsby.

At least he’s past the days where pulling himself out of the seat of a car or getting out of bed was so painful, it made him feel like he was 90 years old. He just wants to get back on a basketball court and feel like himself again.

He’s been through a physical journey he wouldn’t wish upon his worst enemy. After separate surgeries to repair a torn adductor muscle and a torn muscle in his groin robbed him of a huge chunk of his senior season at Louisiana State, there’s finally an end in sight for his rehabilitation.

He estimates he’s only about 60 percent healthy right now, but by mid-to-late May, he anticipates being ready to pursue the next stage of his basketball life.

“What I know is I was a much better player this season than I was last year,” said Hornsby, a 6-foot-4 Williamsburg native who is a son of Grammy-winning musician Bruce Hornsby. “I just had these negative factors involving health limiting me at times.

“I was always in treatment, doing whatever I could. I was being held out of practices in between games for a majority of the first part of the (Southeastern Conference) season, and they had to limit my minutes. That was OK. I just wasn’t healthy. There wasn’t anything anybody could do.”

He started the season rehabbing an injury, missing the first seven games, and ended it on the mend with a separate injury that caused him to sit out the last six games. Standing on the floor March 1 in the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La., for Senior Night, it dawned on Hornsby that LSU fans were witnessing a similar debilitated version of himself they saw at the start of the season.

“The LSU fans have really embraced me,” said Hornsby, who planned to attend the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament this week to catch up with players he played against in college, and schmooze with pro scouts and front-office types. “I’m definitely one of the fan favorites. I just have a great reputation with them.

“So, on Senior Night, I was just out there in street clothes. It was kind of embarrassing, because that’s how I started the season. I just knew everybody was going to be coming up to me asking what’s wrong, because nothing had been released (regarding the specific nature of his injuries). It was just a huge mystery to people. That was tough to bear.”

Painful season

Despite his persistent injuries, Hornsby played in 20 games as a senior and averaged 30.4 minutes per game for LSU, which finished a disappointing 19-14 and opted to sit out secondary postseason tournaments after failing to make the NCAA tournament field.

While one of his roommates, Ben Simmons, garnered almost all the attention on LSU’s roster, Hornsby managed to finish second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game. He also had the best overall shooting season of his college career, connecting on 48.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, 41.5 percent of his 3-pointers and 81.8 percent of his free throws.

Simmons, a 6-10 forward from Australia who averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor as a freshman, will likely be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick June 23 in the NBA draft, but the picture isn’t so clear for Hornsby.

What does the future hold for a quick guard with the ability to shoot from distance, get to the rim, leap out of the building and handle the ball, but who had to endure a couple of surgically repaired, nagging injuries to his core muscle groups in less than five months?

Hornsby, a Hampton Roads Academy and Oak Hill Academy alum who transferred to LSU in 2013 after spending his first two college years at UNC Asheville, accepts that getting a phone call from an NBA team on draft night is a longshot.

Right now, he’s focused on getting into a training camp, playing in an NBA summer league and turning some heads. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll play professionally overseas.

LSU kept his injury status close to the vest during the season, refusing to release many details about the nature of his issues. Putting all of that in the past is part of his process of moving on.

“A lot of people just didn’t think I was hurt,” Hornsby said. “It was frustrating not being able to tell anybody what was wrong with me. I’d have a game where the injury affected me, but a lot of people probably thought that was me at 100 percent, which it really was not. I did what I could to keep myself on the floor.”

Hornsby’s season of distress started in October, when he injured the adductor in his lower left abdomen. He ended up having surgery Nov. 3 and missed the start of the season, but after LSU got off to a slower-than-expected start, he rushed back onto the court.

“Keith only knows one way,” said David Patrick, a former assistant coach at LSU who decided two weeks ago to leave LSU and join new Texas Christian coach Jamie Dixon’s staff after Dixon left Pittsburgh to coach the Horned Frogs. “That’s to go 100 or 110 percent. He can’t go 50 or 60 percent, or take it easy. It was tough to watch him feel his way through practice sometimes just to be ready to play in games, or be on the training-room table before and after practice just so he could get through the week.”

Just six days after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection to speed the healing process, Hornsby played his first game of the season Dec. 13 at Houston.

“By the time I played, we were 4-3,” Hornsby said. “I think I rehabbed a little too hard. I was running miles on the upper concourse of our arena like a week-and-a-half after surgery. I just don’t think the initial injury was able to heal the right way.”

Though he came back in a hurry, he didn’t appear to miss a beat in LSU’s 105-98 overtime loss at Houston, playing 37 minutes and scoring a career-high 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor, including 6-of-10 from 3-point range.

“I just say there weren’t any scouting reports on me in that game,” Hornsby said. “I was kind of my own worst enemy with that game. After that, nobody (on opposing teams) helped off me.”

A few weeks after he returned, the right side of his lower abdomen started to give him trouble – a product of overcompensating for his surgically repaired left side. Eventually, the pain in his right side extended into his groin.

He pushed through the injury, living in the training room and continuing to generate offense. He had 23 points in a win at Vanderbilt, 25 points in a victory against Mississippi State, and scored in double figures in 14 of his 20 games, but his defense struggled because of the groin.

“Keith could always play offense,” said Patrick, who was responsible for recruiting Simmons to LSU. “When we got him (from UNC Asheville), he wasn’t a great defender. Last year, he really worked at it, and he became a better-than-average to good defender. When he came back (this past season), early on, he was doing OK defensively.

“After Christmas, he started getting beat defensively. Keith is the type of guy that if you ask him, he said he was feeling fine, but now looking back, you know he must’ve been in immense pain because he couldn’t push off his leg. He got back to being an average defender because the leg wasn’t right.”

Relieved but frustrated

It all came to an end for Hornsby on Feb. 20 at Tennessee in a most unlikely fashion.

Bending down to pick up a loose ball in the first half against the Volunteers, Hornsby heard what he described as a “rapid-fire rip.” He stood up, took one dribble and felt the pain. A muscle in his groin had torn.

“I’ve watched that part of the game tons of times,” Hornsby said. “You would never think I was hurt.”

He tried to get through a week of moving around at a snail’s pace, struggling to perform normal, everyday activities before he opted for season-ending surgery March 6.

“I kind of knew I was done,” Hornsby said regarding his groin injury. “I knew if I was going to come back, I’d be at risk of hurting it again, and hurting my chances coming up. I was tired of playing hurt anyway. I mean, I’d done it the whole year. So, it was kind of a relief when I finally decided to shut it down.”

LSU’s hiccups down the stretch, which featured losses in five of its last eight games (including two losses with Hornsby on the floor) were hard for him to watch. With Simmons joining LSU’s roster, the Tigers were expected to challenge for the SEC crown, but a 14-man roster that included seven freshmen and sophomores wasn’t quite ready to clear that hurdle.

“It all starts with how much ridiculous hype we had at the beginning of the year,” said Hornsby, who is rehabbing at LSU, preparing to graduate with a degree in communication studies. “That combined with all the crazy ad campaigns on Ben. They had the ‘He’s coming’ campaign down here. It was like singling out one player, like he’s the symbol for the team and nobody else matters.

“I think everybody was kind of like (building us up) at the beginning of the year, and it probably went to our heads. We came out thinking we were better than we were. We hadn’t really proven to anybody we were really that good.

“It’s funny, and I didn’t really think anything about this when it was happening, I just laughed about it, but after any good game of ours, Ben might not even have had the best game, but he’d be the only one in the highlights. So, say one of our guys had 30 (points) and had this great game, Ben would be the only one in the highlights.

“That can’t help but have an effect on most guys who’ve been in the spotlight their whole life. At the same time, it’s to be expected. I don’t know if that really hurt us, but it didn’t help our chemistry. Of course, it’s not Ben’s fault. He wasn’t involved with it at all. He did pretty much the best job he could dismissing all that stuff.”

Now, as Hornsby works on regaining the muscle mass in his legs that deteriorated with the rest required after his groin surgery, he’s laying the groundwork for what’s right around the corner.

He’s narrowing down his choices for an agent. Once he returns to full health, he plans to work out with John Lucas, a former NBA guard for 13 seasons, two-time All-American at Maryland and NBA coach who is now a skills guru in Houston.

As for what Hornsby’s next uniform will look like, that’s still anybody’s guess.

“It’s kind of a big mystery,” Hornsby said. “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting workouts. ... If I get a chance in summer league, that’s obviously what I’m going to do. It’s really all on me. I just need the opportunity. Nobody else can do anything for me, obviously. It’s up to me.”

Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.

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