As a rule, coaches don’t waste a lot of time thinking about what-ifs and could-have-beens.
They’re more interested in the here and now, things they can control.
In the case of LSU basketball player Keith Hornsby, though, coach Johnny Jones couldn’t help but think about what he could have given his team a year ago as it won 20 games and reached the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
After all, it was right there for Jones to see at every practice and before every home game when Hornsby, a UNC Asheville transfer, went through a rigorous, NBA-style workout before taking a shower and a seat at the end of the bench.
A year of cruel and unusual punishment for both coach and player, the result of the NCAA’s transfer rule, officially comes to an end Wednesday when LSU holds its first preseason practice.
Hornsby, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, will be ready to give Jones the extra perimeter scorer his team could have used a season ago — which may have been the difference in an NIT spot and an NCAA tournament berth.
“Last year had its benefits … but like any basketball player, you want your opportunity on the court,” said Hornsby, the son of Grammy Award-winning musician Bruce Hornsby. “I’m so happy it’s here, and I feel like I’m ready.”
Naturally, Jones is as well.
“Keith is a tremendous player that we’re very excited about,” he said over the summer. “He worked extremely hard while redshirting and has shown a lot of leadership. That’s something we probably didn’t have enough of last year.”
Leadership qualities are important, of course, but Jones is looking to Hornsby to help fill the scoring void caused by the loss of Johnny O’Bryant III, who departed a year early for the NBA, and seniors Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman.
They combined for 36.3 points per game last season — just a shade under half of the 74.7 points the Tigers averaged.
Guard Anthony Hickey also is gone after averaging 8.4 points, giving Hornsby an opportunity to pick up some of the scoring slack along with sophomores Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and Tim Quarterman.
After scoring just 4.0 points per game as a freshman, Hornsby blossomed in his second year at UNC Asheville. He started 29 games and averaged 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists — shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range and hitting 92.5 percent of his free throws to rank second in Division I.
“I’m another guy who can make plays and make things happen for my teammates, and brings another scoring threat out there,” Hornsby said when asked what LSU fans missed last season while he was sitting out. “My ability to attack the rim and shoot makes the defense uneven lots of times. I’m just another stable person out there who can make plays.”
In addition to scoring and creating plays for his teammates, Jones is confident Hornsby’s size and strength at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds will be a major asset in defending the perimeter. He had 43 steals in his final season at UNC Asheville.
“He would have maybe defended the bigger wings and helped us in terms of improving our rebounding as well last year,” Jones said. “So there are a lot of areas we think we could have benefited had he been able to play last year.
“He’s a really solid basketball player,” he added. “You don’t have a crystal ball, but if hard work pays off, we’re going to have fun watching him. Keith is going to be a phenomenal player for us.”
Point guard Josh Gray, an Odessa (Texas) Junior College transfer who played his first season at Texas Tech, knows that as well after playing in countless pickup games with Hornsby since June.
“Man, he’s unbelievable,” Gray said. “Keith is one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with. I played with a shooter, Dusty Hannahs, at Texas Tech, but he can’t shoot nearly as much as Keith can shoot it.”
Gray and three highly regarded freshmen — guard Jalyn Patterson, forward Aaron Epps and center Elbert Robinson III — are expected to help as well.
“We have a pretty young team, but I feel like the talent level we have coming in is spectacular,” Hornsby said. “With that, we have to see how everything works out because we’ve only been together a short time.”
At least the what-ifs will be gone.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.