RALEIGH — N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe predicted a big basketball season for Dennis Horner. The senior forward hasn't let his coach down in the first seven games.
The Wolfpack, which hosts Georgia Southern today at 2 p.m. at Reynolds Coliseum, wouldn't be 6-1 and coming off a big road win at Marquette without Horner's leadership and production.
The senior from Linwood, N.J., the last link to former coach Herb Sendek, has emerged as the second option behind star forward Tracy Smith. He averages 13.7 points per game, and he leads the team in blocks (11) and 3-point percentage (60).
"Hopefully," Lowe said Friday, and then stopped to knock on wood, "it continues for us because we need him."
Before the season started, in October, Lowe made a point to single out Horner's summer work on both his game and as a vocal team leader.
"I expect Dennis to have a big year," Lowe said. "I didn't say that about anyone else, but I do I expect him to have a big year."
Lowe made those comments, he explained Friday, because of the way Horner took control of the team in summer workouts and also because of his improved physical condition.
Horner, who is 6 feet 9, bulked up to 225 pounds but also lowered his body fat, from 10 percent to 8 percent.
A skinny outside shooter in high school, albeit with good size, Horner was recruited by Sendek to fit his Princeton-style offense. Sendek left for Arizona State in April 2006 before Horner, and fellow signees Dan Werner and Larry Davis, got to college.
In his first three seasons, Horner bounced between the small forward and power forward slots, with limited success from the outside.
With an eye toward this season, Lowe increased Horner's minutes, in tandem with Smith, as a power forward at the end of the 2008-09 season. Horner responded by scoring in double figures in six of the final eight games. He has scored at least 10 points in all seven games this season.
Part of Horner's success has been his improved health. He had his right knee surgically repaired after playing in pain from tendonosis for the first three seasons of his career.
The second, and most important, part, Lowe said, is Horner's attitude.
"The main thing is his mindset," Lowe said. "His mind is right. That's the difference in Dennis Horner. He's determined to help this team. They love it, they follow it."
Lowe used the word "swagger" to describe how Horner has adjusted his attitude. He has gone from a supporting player - he made three starts last season behind Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley - to a starter and vocal leader.
"Listening to him talk to his teammates, he would say, 'We're not going to be like last year,' " Lowe said.
So far, it hasn't been like last season, a disappointing 10th-place ACC finish, for the Wolfpack, and Horner is a big reason.
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