How Walker Horn got a shot to play basketball for Kentucky

Walker Horn (foreground in cap) was 4 years old in 2008 when the University of South Carolina's President, Andrew Sorensen, placed a hat on his head during the introduction of Darrin Horn, Walker's father, as the Gamecocks' new head men's basketball coach.  Next season, Walker Horn will be a Kentucky Wildcats walk-on basketball player.

Walker Horn (foreground in cap) was 4 years old in 2008 when the University of South Carolina’s President, Andrew Sorensen, placed a hat on his head during the introduction of Darrin Horn, Walker’s father, as the Gamecocks’ new head men’s basketball coach. Next season, Walker Horn will be a Kentucky Wildcats walk-on basketball player.


When Walker Horn informed his dad he wanted his college experience to include being a part of a high-level men’s basketball program, Darrin Horn did what you would expect a father to do.

The Northern Kentucky University head men’s basketball coach got on the phone.

“We just started checking around with people I know to see what the possibilities might be,” Darrin Horn says. “Obviously, Kentucky made a lot of sense if we could work it out.”

That began the process that led to John Calipari granting Walker Horn a spot as a walk-on on the 2022-23 Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball roster. UK confirmed last month that Walker Horn, a 6-foot-3 guard, will be a Cat next season.

“He’s thrilled,” Darrin Horn said of his son. “It’s not lost on him the opportunity to be in a program where there is a Hall of Famer (as head coach) at a place like Kentucky.”

According to his Dad, Walker Horn is at least considering the idea of ​​coaching someday himself. “I think he definitely has an interest in it,” Darrin Horn says. “I don’t know if that is something that he is dead set on right now.”

When the next college hoops season tips off, Darrin Horn, 49, will begin his fourth season as head man at NKU. Yet when his son was looking for a college basketball program of which to be apart, Darrin Horn says Walker did not consider Northern.

“I think he just wanted to go somewhere he could learn and be a part of something unique,” ​​Darrin Horn says. “He’s been with me for 19 years now. He’s looking to learn from somebody else. I think we are pretty good at what we do, but a Hall of Famer (which Calipari is), probably, trumps Dad.”

Had the coronavirus and the efforts to contain it not intervened, Walker Horn would probably have already earned a chance to play basketball in Rupp Arena.

After Darrin Horn left a position on Shaka Smart’s coaching staff at Texas to become NKU head man, Walker Horn moved north with his family and enrolled at Covington Catholic.

As a sophomore in 2019-20, Walker Horn appeared in 31 games for CovCath while averaging 1.3 points and 0.9 rebounds. The Colonels (29-5) beat archrival Fort Thomas Highlands in the 9th Region title game and were slated to play West Jessamine in the 2020 Boys’ Sweet Sixteen in Rupp.

Instead, the state tournament ended up being canceled due to the pandemic.

As a junior, Walker Horn played in 28 games for Covington Catholic, averaging 2.5 points and 1.4 rebounds. The Colonels (24-4) were nipped, 61-60, in the 2021 9th Region quarterfinals by St. Henry.

For his senior year of high school, Walker Horn decided to move back to Texas. “Just really wanted to go back with his friends in Austin and graduate with them,” Darrin Horn says.

So Walker Horn played his senior season for Westlake High School in Austin. According to UK, Horn averaged 9.3 points, 5.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds for Westlake (38-2).

Cats fans will hope Kentucky having a Westlake alumnus on the 2022-23 Kentucky roster is an omen for things to come: The past two NCAA men’s hoops champions have had players from Westlake on their teams — Matthew Mayer (2020-21) of Baylor and KJ Adams of Kansas (2021-22).

In Lexington, Walker Horn will be in the city where his father was a high school hoops star.

As a senior in 1990-91, Darrin Horn averaged 16 points and six rebounds while leading Tates Creek to within one win of the state championship. Coach Nolan Barger’s Commodores fell to Fairdale, led by Jermaine Brown, Maurice Morris and Carlos Turner, 67-63 in a tense state championship game in Rupp Arena.

Darrin Horn’s mom, Lois, and brothers Michael and Greg all still call Lexington home. “Everybody is excited for Walker to be there in school,” Darrin Horn says. The NKU coach says his wife, Carla, “is excited to have (Walker) back close.”

Different from many walk-ons, Walker Horn grew up inside college basketball. The pictures of him in the Herald-Leader photo archive show:

1.) A little boy dribbling a basketball with his father from the the official practice the day before Darrin Horn coached Western Kentucky to a round-of-64 victory over Drake in the 2008 NCAA Tournament;

NCAA Western Kentucky_Matt.JPG
Then-Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn dribbled basketballs with his then-4-year-old son, Walker, during an NCAA West Regional basketball practice held the day before No. 12 seed WKU upset No. 5 seed Drake on Ty Rogers’ famous buzzer beater in the 2008 NCAA Tournament round of 64. PA

2.) A child wearing a South Carolina baseball cap at the news conference where his dad was introduced as the Gamecocks’ head coach.

“As a coach’s son, he’s really kind of seen every level (of college basketball),” Darrin Horn says. “Obviously, he’s very familiar with Kentucky and what it means. He maybe even (views it in) a different way than an in-state kid who spent all their years here (would). He’s seen it from the outside and truly understands the magnitude of Kentucky basketball.”

Darrin Horn says he and his family are grateful to Calipari for giving Walker Horn the chance he craved to be part of the UK basketball experience.

“For me, it’s more of a dad perspective,” Darrin Horn says. “I know Walker is going to be in a good program with good people at the absolute highest level (of college hoops) — which is what he wanted.”

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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