In Brandon Horvath’s senior year at Southern, varsity boys basketball coach Will Maynard sought to prepare the 6-foot-4 Bulldogs star for life on the collegiate level by emphasizing that he would not get the benefit of calls from officials. So during intra-squad scrimmages, Maynard’s assistants swallowed their whistles and allowed Horvath’s teammates to take their shots with few consequences.
“He was getting hacked, and my assistant wasn’t calling it because he purposefully was trying to get Brandon to play through contact and to get him mad because we all knew that Brandon did not like losing,” Maynard recalled. “After his team lost one of those segments, he went crazy. I’m talking about hitting everything, going to the basket, going to the hole, dunking on people, smacking the backboard after dunks, talking big trash.”
Horvath chuckled when reminded of Maynard’s practices.
“I remember those times because he would put me in situations where basically he would stack everything against me and see how I would react,” he said. “I think that just made me a better person and a better player. I can remember those times because I was really angry at the time. That was just my competitive spirit. I hate to lose and sometimes I can go overboard with it. I’ll be playing Monopoly or something, and I’ll be trying super hard at it, and the people I’m playing with will get mad. But I don’t know any other way to play, but to play to win. That’s just how I’ve always been.”
That attitude has served Horvath well at UMBC where the West River resident is in the midst of an unprecedented year. The 6-10, 210-pound senior forward is enjoying career highs in scoring (15.2 points per game), rebounds (8.1), assists (2.0) and blocks (0.5). He also has set career bests in field-goal percentage (.574), 3-point field-goal percentage (.429) and free-throw percentage (.706).
The Retrievers are 9-2 overall and 5-1 in the America East, and that’s even more rewarding to Horvath.
“I’m just trying to be the best I can be,” he said. “I don’t think I’m at that level yet, but I’m definitely playing pretty well. I’m just trying to be the best I can be for my team, and we’re having team success, which is more important to me. It’s early. We’re not even halfway done, but it’s a good start.”
Horvath was one of the first players successfully recruited by UMBC coach Ryan Odom, who said Horvath’s height belies his ball-handling skills and long-range accuracy.
“He has become a tough matchup for opponents because he can play on the outside and make shots from behind the line and put it down, but he also can post up, and he doesn’t have to be right around the rim to post up,” Odom said. “He can dribble into it. We’ve tried to change our offense a little bit this year to give him more opportunities to where he can showcase his skills. He’s doing well so far. We’re really pleased and hopefully, he can continue on the path that he’s on.”
Maynard, Horvath’s coach at Southern, called Horvath “a very underrated passer” while playing shooting guard and small forward. “When you find somebody like him that can shoot the ball that way and can spread the defense and open things up in the interior, I’d be a fool to have him just sitting on the block and posting up,” Maynard said.
He said one of Horvath’s more memorable performances occurred in a regional tournament game against Largo, which was headlined by Abdulai Bundu, who was the Washington Post’s All-Metro Player of the Year in 2015. Bundu, who played at Quinnipiac, scored a game-high 28 points, and Largo won, 84-51, but Horvath as a junior scored 24 points with five 3-pointers, three 2-point baskets and 3-of-3 free throws.
“He had that whole gym going crazy,” Maynard said. “They were going, ‘Who is this kid right here just killing us like that?’”
Horvath said he was still growing and didn’t get to dunk much. But when he hit another growth spurt just before enrolling at UMBC, he relished opportunities to throw it down. But that —and some overexuberance — led to three technical fouls over two seasons that is tied with junior forward Dimitrije Spasojevic for a team high since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Horvath has avoided technical fouls this winter, which he attributed to reaching another level in his personal growth.
“Now that I’ve been there, it’s kind of the old phrase of, ‘Act like you’ve been there before,’” he said. “So I’ve kind of stayed away from the taunting and the talking trash parts. There are times when I get out of character and do it, but I try.”
Odom said he had a few conversations with Horvath about toning down his on-court outbursts.
“I think it’s like with any of our guys when you’re going to have moments when you get a little bit out of character,” he said. “That’s not who we want to be, but for him, it was all about letting his play do the talking as opposed to flexing for the crowd or whatever, and he understands that. A lot of that is just maturity. When you’re younger, all of us are not as mature as we would want to be, and we look back on it and say, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe I did that.’ But at the same time, he’s learned from those situations and now he’s way calmer, but he’s got that same competitive fire.”
The same refinement that Horvath has experienced when it comes to reining in his emotions is what he cited as a factor in his personal success this season.
“I’m thinking the game more than I ever have,” he said. “I’m really taking in the film sessions, seeing tendencies and how people act, and I’m using that more to my advantage than I ever have. So I think it’s really helping me out. I’m more mature than I was. I’m a year older, and I have another year under my belt at UMBC. So that’s always helpful.”
Horvath has started 10 games with his only absence occurring in the second game of a back-to-back series against Binghamton on Dec. 28 because of a separated AC joint in his right shoulder (shooting) shoulder suffered while diving for a loose ball in the first game against the Bearcats a day earlier. Leaving with one point and one rebound with 17:11 remaining in the first half, he returned with 9:32 left in the period and finished with a game-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting (4-of-4 on 3-point attempts) and a team-best nine rebounds and two assists.
Asked why he did not sit out the rest of the first game to avoid further injury, Horvath replied, “I was on adrenaline in that game. I had already had a game where I started and couldn’t finish because of injury, and that was against Delaware. So I was like, ‘I can’t leave my guys in the dark again.’ So I had to come back in.”
That explanation is one reason Horvath has emerged as the team’s catalyst. But Odom pointed out that Horvath is complemented by teammates like junior shooting guard R.J. Eytle-Rock (12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game) and senior point guard Darnell Rogers (9.4 points, 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game).
“He also understands that he’s surrounded by really good players that deserve to have the ball in key moments, and I think that’s one of the strengths of our team, the versatility of our team,” Odom said. “I think there’s no doubt that he is a guy that our guys and our staff are very comfortable with him having the ball at key times and making decisions for us. When you say he’s the go-to guy, that doesn’t mean that the go-to guy has to shoot the ball every time. The go-to guy’s responsibility is to make the right play, and Brandon’s doing that. Brandon’s a willing passer. He’s a guy that understands that we’re only as good as our collective efforts. I think he’s very in-tuned with that.”
Horvath is on pace to graduate in May with a degree in economics. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he has another year of eligibility he can use with the Retrievers with an eye towards playing professionally.
Horvath and senior power forward Daniel Akin are the last links to the 2017-18 squad that captured the America East tournament championship and became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with an upset of Virginia in the first round before running out of steam against Kansas State in the second. As thrilling as his personal numbers are, Horvath said his top priority is helping the team return to the postseason success of almost three years ago.
“It’s great to be playing well, but I’m really focused on the team,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be looking back and saying that this was the best year of my collegiate career not only for myself, but for the team. Hopefully, we achieve our goals and we’ll be celebrating at the end of the year, which is all I really care about.”
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