First-year Denham Springs High girls basketball coach Blake Zito was perplexed. A guidance counselor wanted to know what to do with a new student early last fall.
“They said she was a senior and wanted to know if she should be in the basketball P.E. class,” Zito recalled. “They told me she was interested in basketball and played basketball before, but she told them she was ineligible.
“I coached boys basketball last year (at Springfield). I didn’t know the name. I searched on my computer and there it was.”
Or to be more precise, there Alexius Horne was. Horne led McKinley to back-to-back runner-up finishes in Division I and was the All-Metro MVP last spring.
The 5-foot-9 Horne was one of eight McKinley girls players ruled ineligible over the summer among unprecedented sanctions that led to a huge fine, suspension of all coaches for one calendar year and a two-year playoff ban.
In September, the LHSAA reduced the fine, cut the playoff suspension to one year and granted the seven players left at McKinley eligibility. All eight, including Horne, were ruled ineligible because they were not registered as members of the softball team that competed at the LHSAA tourney in May by coaches/administrators.
Horne was ruled eligible on Oct. 31 after an LHSAA move check/investigation. Horne took it from there. The Lady Jackets (18-3) have won 12 straight. Horne is averaging 15 points and six assists per game as a point guard. Denham Springs travels to University High for a 6 p.m. Friday game.
There were complaints. LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine said players who left McKinley would be ineligible because their move would be considered one to create athletic eligibility when the original ruling was issued. The catch? Horne was not eligible when she transferred.
“I wanted to play, but I wasn’t sure it would happen,” Horne said. “I already accepted a scholarship from Southeastern, so I knew I was set for college regardless of whether I played. But I prayed really hard about it. My prayers were answered.”
Horne looks down at the practice jersey to the No. 31 she has worn throughout her high school career. The No. 31 and Oct. 31 provided a symmetry and a path that required some work. Horne was in the P.E. class, but could not practice with the team until she was ruled eligible. Horne watched and worked out on her own while taking care of classroom work.
“My younger brother is doing well in school. If we need anything, our grandmother lives in Central … not that far away,” Horne said. "I really had to buckle down and focus in school because this was a new challenge, a different school.”
Once she gained eligibility, Horne worried about how she would fit in. She had less than two weeks to learn the plays. Horne did it and posted a 3.2 grade-point average. She loves being more of a distributor than a lead scorer.
"The other girls saw what a natural leader she was, along with her skills,” Zito said. “They saw where Alexius fit. And they saw what I did, she's a great kid.”