In two Big Ten games, Michigan point guard
Daniel Horton has scored a total of 10 points. To understate things
drastically, he hasn’t been himself.

Kate Green

“I’m not frustrated,” Horton said after last
night’s 59-57 loss to Indiana. “I’ve been playing
all my life, I’ll never get frustrated with myself. I
don’t ever get down on myself, because if I do, I’m the
leader and the point guard of this team, and the team is going to
reflect it if I get down on myself.

“I just have to keep my head up.”

As admirable as it was that Horton stood up for himself, the
truth was hard to miss once the bright lights of the camera were
off him and the recorders stopped rolling. As I walked out of the
Michigan lockerroom, I snuck a glance over to Horton’s
locker, and there he was: his head down, buried in his long
fingers. No tears, but obvious frustration with what has transpired
this season.

Wasn’t it just a year ago that the name Daniel Horton was
synonymous with Michigan basketball’s future? That the
droopy-eyed freshman from Texas single-handedly turned this loser
of a program into a winner? That the No. 4 jersey was suddenly
“in” again?

Wisconsin (Jan. 8, 2003) — About 10 seconds left,
Michigan down one, Horton drives to the hole, puts up a runner
… GOOD! Seven seconds left … Wisconsin’s Devin
Harris goes coast-to-coast, puts it up, blocked by Horton! Michigan
wins!

While that Horton memory is one of my favorites, there are many
others from which to choose. There’s the time he led Michigan
with 17 points in the Wolverines’ 60-58 win over Michigan
State. Or how about the time he dropped 31 in a huge win at
Purdue?

Horton was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Tommy Amaker
rewarded him with a new playmate; it had to get old schooling all
the other point guards in practice.

Enter Dion Harris, 2002-03 Mr. Basketball in the state of
Michigan. A point guard with a velvety floor game and a 3-point
stroke that could melt any hoops junkie’s heart, Harris would
only elevate Horton’s game to the next level. Nothing like a
little competition to stir up a competitor, right?

But at the halfway point of the season, it seems that Harris is
getting more out of their one-on-one battles in practice.

In last night’s game, Horton scored his first point on a
free throw 30 minutes into the game. He finished with seven points
in 39 minutes, going 3-for-13 from the field and 0-for-6 from
behind the arc. Harris played 31 minutes and was instant offense
off the bench, scoring 15 points on 6-for-11 from the field and
3-for-6 from 3-point land. Amaker put Harris in the game before the
under 16-minute timeout in each half, showing the confidence
he’s gained in the quiet kid who’s anything but that on
the court.

Michigan’s blowout win over Northwestern Wednesday night
was similar to Indiana, with Harris putting up 13 points, Horton
just three.

The last two games haven’t been a total microcosm of
Horton’s season, but his first 13 games have added heavy
evidence to that whole “sophomore slump” theory. The
line on Horton: 11.5 points per game and an assist-to-turnover
ratio of 39/45 (ouch!). The line on Harris: 10.4 points per game
and an assist-to-turnover ratio of one (28/28). Harris is shooting
eight percent better than Horton from the field and from 3-point
land.

No one in Crisler Arena will admit Horton is struggling or is
playing any differently than last season. But can Amaker be happy
with Horton’s assist-to-turnover ratio? That’s a pretty
crucial part of judging a point guard’s performance.

Horton was put in a tough spot the minute Harris stepped on
campus this fall. Everyone expected Horton to equal if not better
his performance from last season. He was named to the Preseason
All-Big Ten first team. And without a player of Harris’
caliber behind him, there wouldn’t be as much pressure on
Horton.

Now, every Horton miss and Harris make (both of which are
becoming more frequent) brings the same question to mind: Is Horton
Michigan’s best point guard?

Last night, because of Indiana’s small lineup, Harris and
Horton shared the court for 30 minutes (against traditional Big Ten
frontcourts, Amaker won’t have that luxury).

While Harris was one of the night’s only bright spots,
Horton admittedly forced bad shots and contributed to what Amaker
called an individualistic team. He was short on a few shots,
airballed one and missed an open three with about 20 seconds left
and his team down by two. That’s a shot the Horton of old
drains with ice in his veins.

“You can’t just stop shooting,” Horton said,
“especially when you’ve been successful in the
past.”

Horton’s got 14 Big Ten games to keep shooting.

So does Harris.

J. Brady McCollough can be reached at
“mailto:bradymcc@umich.edu”>bradymcc@umich.edu.

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