ATHENS — P.J. Horne wasn’t looking for promises from Tom Crean when he spoke with him about transferring into the Georgia basketball program.
“We just talked about me coming in and having an opportunity to compete,” Horne, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, told DawgNation. “Right now, I just want to play the game and compete.”
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Horne played post for a Hokies’ team that went 16-16 last season.
It’s likely UGA will look to Horne to help guard the rim and rebound after junior Rayshaun Hammonds opted to declare himself eligible for the NBA draft.
Hammonds was Georgia’s leading rebounder with 7.4 per game and second-leading scorer with 12.9 points per outing. Hammonds and Horne faced off in a 2017 Georgia High School State Championship Game in addition to playing AAU basketball together.
Horne sheepishly said his Tift County team beat Hammonds’ Norcross squad, “but neither of us played real well in that game.”
Rome (Ga.) High School principal Eric Holland, who coached Horne at Tift County, explained why Georgia basketball fans should be excited.
“P.J. is a kid of very few words and a lot of action, you’ll see that,” Holland said. “It’s the invisible things that make people great. It’s his work ethic, his leadership, the way he treats people, the way he communicates, and he’s just the consummate teammate
“It seemed like every coach was calling me about him, we had at least 40 calls.”
Horne averaged 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game for the Hokies last season. He also ranked second on his team with 21 blocked shots.
Georgia brings back 6-8, 220-pound sophomore Toumani Camara, who averaged 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, improving as his freshman season progressed.
But the Bulldogs have little else in the way of rebounders or rim protectors at this time.
Holland said it doesn’t matter where Crean wants Horne to play.
“P.J. is very flexible,” Holland said. “He’s adaptable, he doesn’t complain about anything.”
Horne, whose transfer was triggered by a desire to be closer to home amid the coronavirus pandemic, said he watched film on Georgia before finalizing his decision to play for the Bulldogs.
“I saw a young team that has room for growth and has a lot of talent,” Horne said. “It’s a team that has a lot of guys that can do different things on the floor.”
Crean, entering this third year as the Georgia basketball coach, has explained that is by design.
“We want to get this team to the point where you have to guard all five guys past the 3-point line, and if you’re not guarding one of them, it’s because you can’t guard him inside,” Crean said.
“For us to win in this league, there’s a lot of different ways, but you’ve got to stop people on one end, you can’t give up easy baskets with your turnovers, and you have to have the combination of getting layups, getting fouled and getting 3-point shots.”
Horne improved his shooting range last season. After making 1-of-4 attempts his sophomore season, Horne was 45-of-129 (.349) last season.
That would have ranked second on the UGA team among players that attempted more than 20 threes, Hammonds setting the bar at 35 percent on 36-of-103 shooting beyond the 3-point arc.
Georgia ranked 322nd out of 350 Division I teams in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage as a team — an even 30 percent. Only Missouri and Texas A&M were worse in the SEC.
But with a new batch of players coming in — Georgia will sign at least six and maybe seven — Crean will surely be hoping his team’s fortunes will change.
Crean’s Indiana teams had the best 3-point shooting percent among major college teams during his 10 years leading the Hoosiers.
Horne said he likes what he sees coming back on the team.
“They have competitive players,” Horne said. “I look at it as a huge opportunity. I feel like we have a good chance of competing in the SEC and getting to the NCAA tournament.”