The date was May 29, the time was 5 p.m., the paper was due the
next day, and Keith Van Horn had a problem. First, he hadn't
started writing; second, his girlfriend, Amy Sida, had just gone
You want to talk about clutch performances? "I just wrote it in
the delivery room," says Van Horn, a 6'9" Utah junior forward
from Diamond Bar, Calif. "Brought in about four books and a few
pens and loose-leaf paper. Sabrina was born at about 1:30 a.m.
on May 30, and later on I went home and typed up the paper. Had
to have it in by 4 p.m."
Without the paper--a take-home final for a health-education
class appropriately entitled Personal Resilience--Van Horn might
not have made the grade that counted: with coach Rick Majerus.
"Coach Majerus really gets on our case about academics," says
Van Horn, who is amazed that anyone would find all this
astounding. "Amy was due, the paper was due. What's so
remarkable about what I did?"
Most everything Van Horn did during his sophomore year was
remarkable. As a player, he led the Western Athletic Conference
in both scoring (21.9 points per game) and rebounding (10.1),
the first WAC sophomore ever to do that. As the Lamaze coach for
his girlfriend, he assisted in the birth of their daughter while
slam-dunking his final (he received an A), most likely the first
sophomore ever to do that.
"I've been in this league for 18 years," says Roger Reid, head
coach of archrival Brigham Young, "and I don't think there's
been any finer player in our league for a long, long time."
In fact, Reid would have to think back to his first days in
Provo, in the late '70s, to a guard named Danny Ainge, for a
shooter as instinctive as Van Horn. With his inside post moves,
39% three-point touch and 86% accuracy from the free throw line,
Van Horn is an offensive Hydra. Should he replicate his
sophomore point total (694) in each of the next two seasons, he
will unseat Ainge as the WAC's career scoring leader.
"There's no question in my mind that Keith can play in the NBA
and do very well there," says Reid. "Offensively he has a Larry
You'll often hear the term Larry Bird type when Van Horn's name
comes up. In fact, in the last 15 years Utah has been a
veritable nest of Bird types: Danny Vranes, Tom Chambers, Pace
Mannion and Josh Grant. All were versatile and at least 6'7",
all led the Utes in scoring for one or more years, and all were
NBA draft picks. Only Chambers, a four-time NBA All-Star now
entering his 15th season, soared as a pro.
"NBA? First, Keith needs to work on his rebounding," grouses
Majerus. "He has to get tougher."
Truth is, Van Horn is more a Reggie Miller type. Both are lean,
graceful shooters who prefer being fed on the perimeter. Like
Miller, another Southern California native, Van Horn endured a
losing streak to an older sister that extended into puberty. "I
couldn't beat my sister, Kim [a former USC volleyball player who
is nine years his senior], until I was 14," says Van Horn.
Also like Miller, who hosts a children's television show in
Indianapolis, Van Horn is a magnet for kids. At this moment, one
kid especially. Van Horn is eating lunch while Sida, also a
junior at Utah, holds Sabrina. The baby extends her arms toward
her daddy. He drops his sandwich, picks up Sabrina, looks into
her big blue eyes and coos. "She loves her daddy," says Sida,
who lives with Sabrina and her parents in nearby Sandy. "He
changed Sabrina's first diaper, and he's changed many more
He is not ready for the NBA, he agrees, and he is not ready for
marriage. But he is ready, thrilled even, to be a dad. Because
he knows what it is to be without one.
Shortly before 2 a.m. on a frigid January night in 1993, Keith
Van Horn heard a rapping at his dorm-room door. Up to that
moment his freshman year had yielded personal success (a
24-point effort at highly ranked Arizona) and team disarray
(three starters were lost to injury, suspension and withdrawal;
a fourth player, Tony Block, let it be known that he deserved to
start ahead of Van Horn). And now grief came knocking in the
form of Majerus.
"Keith's mom [May] had phoned and told me that her husband [Ken]
had died of cardiac arrest," recalls Majerus. "She wanted
someone to be with Keith when he was told. She asked me to tell
Majerus, who had lost his own father three years earlier, and
Van Horn went to a diner and swapped stories about their dads
until sunrise. Then Van Horn flew home to California. He missed
three games before returning for a contest at Wyoming. As he ran
up the floor that night in Laramie, as Van Horn remembers it,
"everything--my dad's death, our losing, the team
dissension--finally overcame me. I wondered if I should even
have come back this season. I almost broke down right on the
The Utes lost, and Van Horn disappeared straightaway into a
bathroom stall. He bawled "like a baby," he recalls. And then it
was over. During a five-game stretch soon afterward he would
average 26 points, an extraordinary display of personal
resilience. After all, Van Horn wrote the book on it--or at least
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Van Horn cut a dashing figure at both ends of the court as the first sophomore to lead the WAC in scoring and rebounding. [Keith Van Horn]