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Keith Hornsby Embraced A Mental Shift with Legends

No matter the sport, transitioning from rookie player to the professional level is all about one thing – adjustment. It was THE goal for Keith Hornsby with the Texas Legends last season.

Besides the customary adjustment of making the jump from the collegiate to the professional ranks, Hornsby, 25, whose dad is noted musician Bruce Hornsby, also went from being a starter at LSU and NC-Asheville in college to coming off the bench in the NBA D-League.

It’s been a different experience. I went from playing 35 minutes a game (in college) to averaging about 12,” Hornsby said. “But, it really forced me to wake up. Not to just rededicate myself to the game, but to push the throttle down even further as far as how hard I work because my numbers don’t really reflect how efficient I was.”

Those numbers the Virginia native speaks of saw him average 4.5 points, two rebounds, and one assist in 37 games with the Legends last season. Horsnby averaged 12.2 minutes per game under first-year head coach Bob MacKinnon Jr.

MacKinnon Jr. is a veteran D-League coach who has told plenty of players accustomed to being a part of the starting lineup that they were now going to be coming off the bench. Some players fight such a change every step of the way while others immediately embrace their new role. However, MacKinnon Jr. liked what he saw from Hornsby as a rookie.

Practically every guy in our league was one of the top two or three players on their team in college. Then, to come here and have to learn how to come off the bench and play a role is hard to do. Hornsby has done a great job with it,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “His work ethic is one of the best I’ve ever been around. Not only this year, I’ve been around him, but in the six years I’ve coached in the D-League. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had.”

Hornsby, who also played for the Dallas Mavericks last fall during preseason, was also contending with something else upon arriving in the professional ranks. Recovering from an abdominal injury he sustained his senior season at LSU, Hornsby required surgery cutting his final year in Baton Rouge short.

But, through everything he experienced last season – the ups, downs, and adversities – he really can’t complain about how things went considering he’d never really come off the bench before.

I thought I did a great job. I had to learn how to come off the bench cold and had to play exceptionally well just to stay on the floor throughout the whole year,” Hornsby said. “And, I became very good at that. Throughout the entirety of 2017, I shot about 55 percent from the field and over 40 percent from threes off very limited time.”

While the end results from Hornsby’s first season as part of the Legends’ bench were favorable, it’s been an interesting road for him to even reach this point. When MacKinnon Jr. first floated the idea of him coming off the bench instead of starting, Hornsby was less than enthralled with the concept of becoming a sixth man.

When at first I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t thinking bigger picture,” Hornsby admitted. “Really, throughout this year, I learned that for my mindset and well-being I was only hurting myself when I had the narrow-minded attitude about not playing, blaming other people, and feeling sorry for myself.”

One thing which helped him eventually see the bigger picture that would help the Legends win as many games as possible was the tough love he received from MacKinnon Jr. and his assistant coaches. They never hesitated to remind Hornsby where he was.

All stuff that the coaches told me… ‘Hey, you’re a rookie. This is normal.’ We have a lot of veterans on the team, a lot of great players that I’m playing behind. And it made sense. I could see it. I accepted that was the challenge that I was facing, but they were helping me get better,” Hornsby said.

However, MacKinnon Jr. and his staff also made it a point to also deliver some positive reinforcement to Hornsby when he seemed to be struggling through parts of his rookie season. And, in the end, Hornsby came to embrace his new role off the bench. Coming off the bench with enthusiasm, energy, and by making  great plays, he could play a significant role in helping the Legends win more games.

Even with a dad who is a famous musician, Hornsby admits he doesn’t have an instrument he would consider himself a virtuoso at, but he does have some musical skills, a strong “rhythm sense” as he puts it. And speaking of his famous father, Bruce, he made it to several of Keith’s games this season.

He’s seen me play. He’s been here a few times, but not that much,” Horsnby said. “He’s really busy. He’s probably seen about four games here. He went to Austin to see me play, and he’s very involved in my basketball life. He’s been really big for me throughout this year, keeping me up, and making sure I’m in the right place mentally. We have a really close relationship.”

The Legends concluded their 2016-17 campaign in early April, but Horsnby knows that when the curtain falls on another season, the real work of the offseason begins. And now that he’s healthy, he hopes this summer might include a stint on the Mavs’ Summer League team. Even if that doesn’t happen, he knows he still has plenty areas of his game to continue honing so he can take another big step forward next season.