Keith Hornsby won’t be able to play in what could be his final home game in an LSU basketball uniform Tuesday night, but it won’t keep him from cherishing what he said have been the two best years of his life.
Nor will it stop him, he said, from doing what he can to help his teammates keep their slim NCAA tournament hopes going in the second-to-last Southeastern Conference regular-season game.
While a sports hernia injury will sideline Hornsby for a third consecutive game when LSU takes on Missouri at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, he’ll quickly turn his thoughts from a 7:45 p.m. Senior Night ceremony to being the best motivator/coach he can be.
Hornsby and guards Josh Gray and Henry Shortess, a junior who’ll be recognized because he’s graduating in May, will be honored shortly before LSU (17-12, 10-6) takes the floor to try to remain no worse than a game off the league lead with a win over Missouri (10-19, 3-13).
It may also be the final home game for freshman forward Ben Simmons — the Tigers’ leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots — who could be the first pick in the NBA draft in June.
“Being senior night, it’s going to be tough,” said Hornsby, who missed the first seven games this season after having sports hernia surgery. “But I’ll still be there doing whatever I can to help them win, whether that’s keeping someone on their toes or just positively motivating the guys.”
At times during a media availability Monday, it was obvious Hornsby was hurting more from knowing he won’t be on the floor than from the discomfort he feels just trying to sit in a chair, or do anything else for that matter.
The reason: LSU probably needs to win Tuesday night, at Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, and take a couple of games in the SEC tournament next week to claim an NCAA postseason bid for the second year in a row.
Not being able to put on his LSU jersey one last time at home is just as hard as not being able to help his team with his play.
“LSU … those three letters define the person I am today,” said Hornsby, who came to LSU as a transfer from UNC-Asheville and sat out the 2013-14 season. “It’s been the two best years of my life, plain and simple.
“The experiences I’ve had the last two years have made me who I am today. It’s given me the confidence in lots of different areas I kind of didn’t have before, whether it’s just talking to people (on campus) or out on the floor.”
Hornsby, who has averaged 13.3 points in 53 career games with the Tigers, said he’ll always remember the key plays he made. Topping the list is the deep 3-point shot from the corner to upset Arkansas and silence a raucous Bud Walton Arena crowd in the regular-season finale last year.
While this season didn’t turn out the way he had hoped in more ways than one, Hornsby knows his time here has been special.
“Just being in the LSU uniform and having the pride to walk around the campus and know I represent a place I cherish so much for the past two years,” he said, “is exactly what I hoped for when I made the move to come here.”
Gray also played two seasons at LSU after being named the junior-college player of the year at Odessa (Texas) Community College. He’s averaged 6.3 points and 2.9 assists per game in a career marked by inconsistent play.
“I tried to get better,” Gray said. “Throughout my good times and bad times at LSU, I stayed in the gym. I stayed positive because all I can control is my attitude and my growth.
“I learned a lot,” he added. “I learned how to deal with adversity, and I learned how to overcome obstacles. I think I’ve grown into a man; I went from a boy to a man.”
Shortess, a University High School graduate, was a walk-on for his first 2½ seasons before being awarded a scholarship by coach Johnny Jones in January.
While Shortess has played in only 15 career games and scored eight points, he’s been a key part of the scout team that goes against the starters in practice.
“(Scout-teamers) get personal satisfaction when we see what’s going on out on the floor, knowing the role we played in helping the guys prepare,” he said. “It’s something we take very seriously and take a great deal of pride in.”