Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
Worth Waiting For
New Jersey rookie Keith Van Horn started late but quickly unveiled a dazzling game
by Tim Crothers
Posted: Wed January 14, 1998
So said one NBA security man to another upon finding a young man sleeping in the hallway of a hotel in Charlotte, wearing only blue plaid boxer shorts. Naturally, there's a very good explanation for this. Really.
About seven hours earlier at the NBA draft, Van Horn had been chosen second overall by the Philadelphia 76ers; the next day he would discover that he had been traded to the New Jersey Nets. To celebrate his first night in the NBA, Van Horn, still dressed in his fancy blue suit and wearing his 76ers baseball cap, joined his wife, Amy, and a small group of family and friends at a local bistro. The merry revelers closed the place, singing karaoke to Marvin Gaye's Our Precious Love, eating Buffalo wings, drinking too much chardonnay and smoking way too many cigars. They left the restaurant and returned to their hotel bar for more wine and stogies. When Keith finally returned to his room at 5 a.m., he was seized by a persistent and noisy case of hiccups that threatened to wake up his four-week-old son, Nicholas. Amy, who had never seen her normally teetotaling husband so much as tipsy in the four years that she'd known him, banished Keith to the hallway with a pillow. An hour or so later the security men arrived.
Thus began a series of memorable NBA exploits featuring Van Horn, many of which have ended with similar exclamations of wonder. For instance, on Jan. 2 the 6'10" New Jersey rookie forward scored 16 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter of a benchmark 103-98 victory over the New York Knicks, highlighted by a dazzling move with the game tied at 79 and 7:45 remaining. Playing in just his 13th pro game, Van Horn held the ball at the top of the key facing New York's intimidating 13-year veteran power forward Charles Oakley. He teased Oakley with a series of head fakes, used a deft crossover dribble to penetrate the lane and then scored on a sweet finger roll that brought the sellout crowd at Continental Airlines Arena to its feet and gave the Nets the lead for good. Later in the quarter Van Horn sank two three-pointers, then clinched the win by making a pair of free throws with 6.8 seconds left. During a late timeout, New Jersey center Jayson Williams walked back to the Nets' bench, where he was met by reserve forward David Benoit. Said Benoit, "Damn, that Van Horn boy can play."
Williams looked askance at Benoit and replied, "Where've you been? He's been busting your booty in practice every day."
Truly, if anybody should have sensed Van Horn's explosive potential, it's Benoit, a seven-year veteran who guarded the rookie in one-on-one drills for six weeks during New Jersey's summer camp. "Keith tore me apart until I finally figured out that the only way to stop him is to foul him," Benoit says. "Still, I had no idea he'd abuse the rest of the league the way he abused me."
"Van Horn's so polished and he's got so many weapons that it's hard to believe he's a rookie," says Orlando Magic coach Chuck Daly, who saw him drop in 19 points in New Jersey's 89-87 home win over the Magic last Thursday. "He'll be an All-Star in this league, and sooner rather than later."
Van Horn is excelling partly because, despite his lofty draft position, he is continually underestimated. "He doesn't look like an athlete," Detroit forward Grant Hill says, taking note of Van Horn's stringy, 230-pound body, "but he's more athletic than I thought he'd be." Even some of the Nets' brass admit they underrated Van Horn until they scouted him at a workout two weeks before last June's draft. "Keith shows up with his funny-looking body and his socks pulled up high like a dork and that choirboy face," New Jersey coach and vice president John Calipari says. "Then I watched the guy hit 32 of 40 from the three-point line and knock down 50 straight free throws and jump to the top of the square on the backboard and run faster than our guards, and I was just blown away. I said to myself, Holy cow, am I really seeing this?"
Issue date: January 19, 1998
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.