Hornsby brothers thriving in Division I athletics

Marty O'Brien
Contact Reportermobrien@dailypress.com
Keith Hornsby led #LSU in 3-point shooting and scores double figures in most games

WILLIAMSBURG — Keith and Russell Hornsby certainly deserved some ink in the summer of 2002 for their youth-sports exploits. Russell finished second in the AAU National Junior Olympic track and field meet at 1,500 meters, the same week Keith averaged 17.2 points for Boo Williams' team in the AAU 10-and-under national basketball tournament.

But what really set the twins apart from other Hampton Roads 10-year-olds with a lot of athletic potential, and the hook for a feature in their local daily, was that they are the sons of Grammy Award-winning musician Bruce Hornsby.

Bruce Hornsby admitted to being a proud and nervous dad, albeit one with his heart in the right place.

"I just want them to enjoy themselves so they walk around happy," he told Daily Press writer Dave Fairbank in 2002.

Thirteen years later, Bruce Hornsby clearly has his wish. Keith and Russell are walking happily into their final collegiate seasons, cutting their own paths at the highest level of NCAA Division I competition.

Russell, a sprinter and middle-distance runner at track-and-field powerhouse Oregon, competed in the 4x400-meter relay in the NCAA championships in June as the Ducks defended their national title. Keith started in 2014-15 at shooting guard for LSU's men's basketball team, where he ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in minutes played with 35.5 per game and was the centerpiece of a number of thrilling finishes.

KEITH HORNSBY

This past season was the first in LSU competition for Keith, who transferred from UNC Asheville following the resignation of head coach Eddie Biedenbach. His 3-point shooting, average of 15 points and a 92.5 free-throw percentage as an Asheville sophomore had D-I high majors calling when he was released from his scholarship.

With an average of better than 17 points in Asheville's games against majors, including 26 points against Ohio State in Columbus, he proved he could compete at the highest level collegiately. But as a transfer, he had to sit out the 2013-14 season at LSU.

"That's every kid's dream," Keith said of playing for a high major. "I was confident enough where I figured I should roll the dice."

Although Bruce Hornsby would've been fine with his son staying in Asheville, he supported the decision and told Keith to take the long-term view during his sit-out year and develop further mentally and physically.

"I told him, 'Your goal should be to perform well enough in practice that when Coach (Johnny) Jones is going down the bench looking for people to put in, and he sees you in street clothes, he wishes he could put you in,'" Bruce said. "His redshirt year he became a prize for them."

A prize who lived up to expectations. His average of 13.4 points was third-best on the team, and his 39 percent 3-point shooting (72 of 183) led the team and was fourth-best in the SEC.

Keith scored in double figures in 15 consecutive games, tops on the Tigers and the most in the program in five years. But it was his late-game heroics that were most memorable in a season in which LSU went 22-11 and reached the NCAA tournament.

He made a key 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in a 74-73 upset of West Virginia, then defended former Oak Hill Academy teammate Juwan Staten on his miss of a shot that would've been the game-winner for WVU.

"I nicked his arm a little bit, knowing they wouldn't call it," Keith said. "The shot was off, and we got the rebound and won."

He forced overtime at Alabama-Birmingham with a late 3-pointer and missed a 3-pointer that would've ended Kentucky's unbeaten streak at 23 games. He insists Andrew Harrison fouled him on the play, but understands he wasn't getting that call any more than Staten got the call against him.

The defining moment of his season was the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat No. 18 Arkansas 81-78 in the regular-season finale in Fayetteville.

"It's still pretty surreal when I look at it now," Keith said of his shot from deep in the corner. "I still can't believe it."

RUSSELL HORNSBY

Viewing his brother's success during the winter from Eugene, Ore., Russell Hornsby was ecstatic.

"It was awesome," Russell said of Keith's basketball season. "It pumped me up because he was having all this success before my season was really getting started.

"I was like, 'Yeah, it's my turn.' "

Interestingly, Russell could've had a close-up view of Keith's exploits had he chosen LSU when it recruited him during his stellar senior year of high school running the 800 for Georgetown Prep.

"It's so ironic Keith ended up at LSU, because that was Russell's road not taken," Bruce Hornsby said. "LSU really wanted Russell and offered him room, board and books, which is almost half, and is a lot for a track scholarship."

However, while there are many legendary high majors in basketball, Oregon is singular as an attraction in United States track and field. Not only has the program produced national legends including Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar, but Hayward Field, slated to host the 2021 IAAF Track and Field World Championships, is the American cathedral of the sport.

"There's more fans there than anywhere in the country, and you won't get that atmosphere anywhere else," Russell said. "The opportunity to get into the best races against some amazing people is something that I wouldn't get at any other school."

A solid freshman season in 2012 included a best of 1:49.70 in the 800 outdoors and a sixth-place finish at that distance in the Pac-12 meet. Bursitis slowed him the next year, then he made a move to training with the middle-distance runners after two years with the sprinters.

His switch back to the sprint training group and a change in focus from the 800 to the 400 ignited a successful junior season outdoors this past spring.

"It's weird, but I adapted way better to the (sprint) training than I did in years before," Russell said. "I don't know if I just kind of mentally understood what we were doing, but my speed got way better in the 400."

As in two seconds better, from a best of 48.93 open to sub-46.1 relay splits in the West Region NCAA qualifier and in the NCAA championships. Oregon's 4x400 quartet finished ninth in the NCAA meet, one place short of scoring, as the Ducks defended their national title in front of the home crowd at Hayward.

"Just competing in the NCAAs for a team as good as Oregon is awesome," Keith said. "Obviously, the moment we won is something I'll always remember and the 'Go Ducks' thing (hands in the shape of an 'O') we do with the crowd.

"Oregon winning a national championship at home is as good as it gets."

Keith said of Russell, "When he ran in the nationals, I felt the same butterflies and the same expectation of competition as I did before I played basketball games."

ALL GROWN UP

Bruce Hornsby had his own moment in the national spotlight this summer, performing in five reunion shows with the Grateful Dead in California and Chicago. Keith and Russell attended a show with 75,000 others in Chicago, along with mom Kathy, conjuring memories for Bruce Hornsby of the last time they were with him as he performed live with the band 22 years ago.

Jerry Garcia was the only one the twins would let hold them when they were 1 and a half, Bruce said, not Sting, Don Henley or Bob Weir. Then he reflected on the twins' journey since, their walk into manhood, the happy one he always wished for them and how they have struck their own course.

"You want your kids to find their passion," Bruce said. "Both were given certain gifts and became seriously interested in developing those gifts.

"When you're given talent and adopt the mind-set that you love to develop it, that's a beautiful combination that can lead to excellence. I'm obviously proud of them, but more than that, I'm happy for them."

O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.

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