Michigan freshman Jon Horford goes from reluctant participant to college basketball player
Al Goldis | Lansing State Journal
LANSING - He was dragged to the court at first, barely interested in touching a basketball and a long way from being part of the 2010 Michigan basketball team recruiting class.
When Jon Horford was a kid, he’d rather skateboard. Or play with a Hacky Sack footbag. Basketball was around - he never got cut from a team - but through the formative first years of his basketball life, it was never a priority.
It was at Aim High in Lansing, where he'd sometimes leave because he didn't want to play anymore, where he learned the game from Larry Turnbow, a friend of the Horford family.
“They got me playing on a team, and I never wanted to play,” Horford said. “But he always pushed me, saying I would want to play when I was older. He used to make me work out and all this stuff, and I ended up falling in love with the game.”
Not that he wasn’t tempted to leave it behind.
For the majority of his pre-high school career, Horford rode the bench. AAU ball, he sat. Middle school basketball, he sat.
He was a good rebounder, but his offensive skills were raw so he ended up at the prankster on the end of the bench instead of the difference-maker on the court.
Even then, he thought he’d play college basketball despite the fact he was close to quitting. He’d hear it from classmates, too, because as Jon wasn’t playing in middle school his brother, current Atlanta Hawk Al Horford, was becoming a star at Grand Ledge.
When he was 13, Jon went back to his first love, skateboarding, for a brief period. Horford became hooked on the sport because the older brother of his best friend growing up skateboarded.
So naturally, he followed along. And when it looked like basketball wasn’t going to work, he briefly went back to focus on skateboarding.
Looking back, though, he is glad he returned to basketball.
“I’m glad I got out of all that, and I’m into basketball now,” Horford said. “And basketball is a good thing. But skateboarding is cool, especially people who are real good.
It helped, too, that once Horford reached high school, he began to play more. Horford’s high school coach, Tony Sweet, played Horford on junior varsity his freshman year and by the time the playoffs started, bumped him up to varsity.
It’s where he remained the rest of his high school career, eventually becoming a star at Grand Ledge.
“He just continued to improve toward the end of his sophomore year,” Sweet said. “And he won our share of games and he was kind of our go-to guy. It seemed like he hit that stride where his ability kicked in with his body and everything seemed to click his sophomore year.
“His junior and senior year was status quo and improving.”
Eventually, Michigan started to notice. Unlike his brother, who went to Florida, Jon wanted to stay in Michigan.
Throughout his senior year, as he waited for Michigan to offer, Horford insisted playing close to home was a factor in his decision. So when the Wolverines offered, it almost became inevitable he would end up in Ann Arbor.
“I love Michigan,” Horford said over coffee in May. “I don’t know too much about the school yet, but I’m sure I’m going to love Michigan.
“But I love Michigan, the state of Michigan. I wouldn’t go anywhere.”
As he wrapped up his high school career, the 6-foot-9 forward couldn’t help but think back to his days on the bench, to the days he didn’t want to play and how he almost quit.
He thought about the guys who played in front of them, and how most of them don’t play basketball anymore.
“When I played with those guys, the guys in middle school, a lot of them were the studs in middle school and like early in high school they don’t even play basketball, they didn’t want to play basketball,” Horford said. “I play with them all the time and I’m wondering, in their head, what are they thinking? I put myself in their position and guys who are on our bench right now and outplaying me and going on to do something with basketball.
“They probably never saw it coming in a million years.”
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at email@example.com or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein
Sat, Jul 17, 2010 : 5:04 p.m.
Horford will be a great player... in two years. He needs to put on 25 lbs and strengthen his body.
Fri, Jul 16, 2010 : 8:12 p.m.
Sounds like a player with potential who can fit into the system. As far as the team goes, it will be a struggle to hit a 2 to 1 loss to win ratio this coming season. It would be great if they could finish at 8 or 9, above the very likely 10 or 11 in the Big Ten.
Fri, Jul 16, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.
Jalen will never take the job. He'd have to wear UM colors on the sideline, and that is just uncool. I don't think the red jacket he wore to the UM-MSU game at Crisler would go over well with the fans. (But it is similar to the red wristband that RichRod wears.)
Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 7:36 p.m.
this report actually saddened me..I wanted to hear that the horford kid spent his entire younger days trying to compete with,attempting to be better then big brother not (Al horford atlanta hawks) he wasnt interested an thought of quitting..ive been on the jonny b train since he got here..but his recruting is c- yr. after yr. at best...an im hearing bundridge (being just a verbal) is about to re-open his recruiting..I say give the job to jalen rose..he can turn this around..
Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 7:18 p.m.
Brundidge is the latest savior? No more than Manny, Dion, Dan Horton- picture the Spartans without **** talent surrounding- Cleaves or Lucas. As long a Michigan plays a gimmick offense and recruits players a step slow (Smotrycz a match up problem?- most good teams have guys on their bench who are faster)- they'll be destined to finish 8th or lower. MSU, OSU, Purdue and Illinois are poised for years- Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana (once Crean brings in his players) all have brighter program futures. If you like High School basketball- come to Crisler.
Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 6:14 p.m.
Based on the picture, looks like he'll be a huge threat down low in the Big Ten. (rolls eyes) Field day for Draymond, Nix, and Payne. Another long year awaits Wolverine basketball fans.
Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 5:44 p.m.
I like the class John Beilein brought in this year. While he didn't land a top flight blue chip player SF like Casey Prather or Trey Ziegler, he still managed to bring in some size. I also believe Tim Hardaway Jr. is a very underrated combo guard. Smotrycz will stretch the floor, and with his size and range he will be a tough assignment for anyone who has to guard him. Horford will be our rebounder and shot blocker Hardway Jr. has good range and can put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop. I don't expect Horford or Hardaway Jr. to see alot of minutes this season. And Michigan would be lucky to finish around 6th-7th in the Big Ten this season. But looking ahead to 2011 with Brundidge in the fold will be very interesting to say the least. Brundidge will have an immediate impact as soon as he arrives at Michigan. He will be the player that puts Michigan basketball back in the discussion.
Thu, Jul 15, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.
He better be an impact player quickly as he has nothing else around him. These ex WVU coaches are pathetic.