More often than not, a program’s successes are defined by its star talent, particularly by the time March rolls around. Conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament are when the lights shine brightest, and even if a team has had a subpar or disappointing regular season, it can make a run at just the right time and finish things on a high note if its best players are up to the task.
The Tennessee Lady Vols, whose 2022-23 season got off to a rocky start, are a great example. The poor non-conference performances, injuries and lineup shifts that marred the first half of Tennessee’s season are now a distant memory; the Lady Vols will be playing for the 2023 SEC Tournament championship, and it’s thanks largely to the play of senior guard Jordan Horston.
Horston, whose career at Tennessee had to a point been characterized by both tantalizing promise and frustrating inconsistency, has stepped up when the Lady Vols need her the most. The 6-foot-2 guard has played her best basketball as a senior, teaming up with high-profile transfer Rickea Jackson to form one of the country’s most explosive perimeter scoring duos — though their individual games are quite different. Whereas Jackson glides up and down the court with long, efficient strides and owns the free throw line area with silky-smooth turnaround jumpers, Horston is a terror off the dribble, shaking defenders and getting to the rim with ease while making on-the-move passes few other players her size are capable of.
Big recognition for our !— Lady Vols Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) February 28, 2023
First Team All-SEC honors for @ladylynn22_ and @iamthathooper
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Leaning on the duo has been a successful strategy for the Lady Vols, who got a combined 43 points from Horston and Jackson in their recent upset win over LSU — a 17-point comeback that was a testament to the value of high-octane perimeter offense, particularly when more than one player can be relied on to take over a game. The two Tennessee stars are linked in another way, too: They’ll both be among the first players to hear their names called in the 2023 WNBA Draft.
Incidentally, Jackson was the first player from the 2023 draft class we profiled, and Horston will be one of the last; the 2023 NCAA Tournament is right around the corner and the WNBA Draft will be soon after. While we wait, let’s take a look at what makes Horston a special player.
Honors and statistics
Horston came to Tennessee as a highly-rated recruit, ranked No. 2 overall in the class of 2019 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz. As a senior in high school, Horston was a McDonald’s All-American, and she was named Ohio’s Player of the Year by USA Today.
Horston’s role during her time at Tennessee has fluctuated, which, in a way, speaks to her versatile skillset. She started 22 games for the Lady Vols as a freshman and 13 as a sophomore — earning SEC All-Freshman honors and leading the team in assists per game in both seasons — but truly broke out during her junior season, when she averaged 16.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and four assists per game. As a junior, Horston was named to the All-SEC First team by USA Today and conference coaches and earned an All-American Honorable Mention nod from the WBCA and Associated Press.
As a senior, Horston has put together another well-rounded stat line, averaging 15.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game to go along with 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocked shots. She was recently named to the All-SEC First Team by conference coaches and the All-SEC Second Team by USA Today.
Internationally, Horston has won a pair of gold medals with USA Basketball. She was part of a Team USA roster that won FIBA’s U16 Championship in 2017, then won competition MVP in 2018 when Team USA won the FIBA U17 World Cup.
Horston brings next-level athleticism and playmaking to Lady Vols
Horston is listed as a guard — and she can certainly handle and pass like one — but at 6-foot-2, categorizing her simply as a ball-handler would be a disservice to her game. Horston is one of the best in the country at breaking down defenses off the dribble, and she possesses an extra gear of athleticism that few other players have, exploding to the rim with regularity.
There are plenty more ways Horston can contribute, though, and it’s something Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper wants her star senior to embrace.
“We are at our best when (Horston) is stuffing the stats, and it does not have to be points,” Harper told The Daily Beacon. “Her effect on the game in every other column is so valuable to our team ... she can do so many things and our team, not just Jordan, but our team is at our best when she’s doing that.”
Horston’s stat lines from the past two seasons reflect this. As a junior, in particular, she led the Lady Vols in scoring (16.2), rebounding (9.4), assists (four) and steals (1.4), playing much of the season as the team’s primary ball-handler and posting a massive 34.4 percent usage rate for a Tennessee team that struggled with injuries to its backcourt.
Granted, Horston’s individual efficiency suffered (37.9 percent shooting and 4.5 turnovers per game), but she’s found a happy medium as a senior. The additions of Jackson and point guard Jasmine Powell via the transfer portal have bolstered the Lady Vols’ depth on the perimeter and taken some of the burden off of Horston’s shoulders, allowing Harper to call plays that put her in advantageous situations and allow her to do what she does best: attack.
What truly separates Horston from similar off-dribble threats, though, is how adept she is at creating opportunities for her teammates. She sees the court well and is a willing passer, which has yielded numerous easy baskets for fellow Lady Vols when defenses are forced to sell out on Horston drives. As one would assume, this makes Horston an excellent transition player, particularly when she can grab defensive rebounds and pitch the ball ahead herself. Those assist numbers aren’t just a product of her having the ball in her hands often — she’s a value-added passer, which, once again, is especially impressive given her size.
Horston’s entire skillset was on full display in Tennessee’s SEC Tournament win over the Kentucky Wildcats. She finished the game with 21 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and seven blocked shots, showcasing her usual off-dribble excellence while dominating the game with her athleticism and body control on both ends of the floor:
Highlights: Horston leads Tennessee past Kentucky on both ends of the floor
The WNBA is an athletes’ league, and it’s clear that Horston is one of, if not the most athletic wing player in the 2023 draft class. She still needs to work on her outside shot, having hit 30 percent of her 3-pointers only once in her collegiate career, and her overall decision-making can be head-scratching (though noticeably improved from her underclassman seasons), which may give WNBA general managers pause as they consider how much time they’re willing to immediately invest in player development.
Every time Horston shows her complete, all-around game, however, that decision will become easier and easier. It helps that the Lady Vols are peaking at the right time, too; if the WNBA Draft was held today, Horston would definitely be in consideration to be drafted in lottery range (top four), and if she leads the Lady Vols on a deep NCAA Tournament run, that draft position may be cemented.
Watch her play
Horston and the Lady Vols will compete for an SEC Tournament championship on Sunday, when they take on the top team in the country: The South Carolina Gamecocks. A win over South Carolina would not only earn the Lady Vols a tournament title, but it would also be South Carolina’s (31-0) first loss of the season, so needless to say, it’s a big game for Tennessee.
Regardless of the SEC Tournament outcome, the Lady Vols will likely be participating in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, which begins in earnest on Friday, March 17. ESPN’s Charlie Creme currently projects Tennessee as a No. 5 seed in his Bracketology, though we’ll have to wait until next Sunday for the official selections. Each NCAA Tournament game will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.
All statistics and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season are current through March 4, 2023.