No McDonald's All-Americans. No Five-Star faves. There's nothing glamorous about the State men, nothing speedy or sleek. Instead, they'll count on their toughness: a big man from Detroit who won't back down; a point guard from Miami who keeps on punching; a power forward from New Jersey who'd be underrated if he had any rating at all.
In the same way that Being John Malkovich helped us understand the stress of modern life (and the New Jersey Turnpike), Being Dennis Horner, the Jersey kid, opens a window on the place of the Pack in the basketball world these days.
Being Horner, I know that not one thing is expected of me or my team anymore. We have sunk to the bottom of the ACC. It's no longer a question of keeping up with the Dukes and Carolinas; we're bottom-feeding with the Florida States.
Nor do we have an identity. I know that all too well. I am the last vestige of the Herb Sendek era, the only player Sendek recruited his last year at State who showed up after he bolted for Arizona State and Sidney Lowe replaced him. For the last three years, Sendek's leftovers have suited Coach Lowe like a light-blue sport coat. They played with finesse. Coach likes muscle. They hoisted threes. Coach likes an old-fashioned "and one." They didn't play a lot of defense, especially at crunch time. Coach hated that.
But here's the thing: Even though Sendek recruited me, I'm a down-Lowe type of player. Hustle. Grind. Win. Or go down trying. And with all of Sendek's recruits finally out of here except me, we're going to play like Coach wants this year—not the most talented team, maybe, but not afraid of anybody either.
So here's how I see us. Our center, Tracy Smith, is actually pretty good, a 6-foot-8 power player who gets to the glass every time unless he's double-teamed. He's lost about 20 pounds this year—watch out for him.
And on the right wing, our 6-foot-7 freshman, Scott Wood, is a gunner who can sneak in for put-backs, too. Not the fastest, but he works his tail off.
Our guards, Javi Gonzalez and C.J. Williams, are lunch-pail players. They play defense, they rebound, they scrap and claw and don't give up. Off the bench, Julius Mays is another guy who'll stand his ground and can shoot it if you leave him open. And Javi, our point guard, is always looking to take it to the hole if you give him a lane.
Which brings me, Dennis Horner, to me. I'm gonna surprise some people this year. Number one, my teammates fit me, and I fit them. They play hard. I play hard. I'll operate from the left wing, move without the ball, take what the defense gives me. I can shoot threes; I can step in and hit the 17-footer; I can drive. First option is Smith inside. If he's doubled, and the defense stays home on Wood (which they'd better), I'm the second option.
If I hit my shots, we'll be better than you think. If not, well, I plan to hit them.
One thing you may not know about me: The last couple of seasons, my knees were killing me (tendinitis), and I couldn't really move well or jump. But I had a new kind of surgery on them in the off-season, and now they feel great. I'm no Larry Bird, as Coach likes to say. But I'm not as slow as you think I am either.
And yes, I am 6-foot-9, and between Tracy and me, we're not going to be overpowered by anybody inside. I'm from South Jersey, he's from Detroit—trust me, we like to mix it up. Still, we need our freshmen big men, DeShawn Painter, Richard Howell and Josh Davis (from Raleigh Athens Drive High) to grow up fast, because they're our bench, and Tracy and I can't do it all.
But we can do a lot. So Pack fans, after all the recent misery, all I ask is that you give us a chance. The Jersey Turnpike isn't pretty either—but it gets the job done, you know?