N.C. State’s DJ Horne discusses ‘magical’ March Madness run, NBA goals at Portsmouth Invitational Tournament

PORTSMOUTH — The last month has been a whirlwind for DJ Horne.

He helped lead N.C. State on a miracle run to an ACC Tournament championship, then an even bigger miracle run to the Final Four — cementing himself among a team that Wolfpack fans will remember for years to come.

Now, Horne is looking to prove he has what it takes to play at the next level. Part of that process brings him to Churchland High School, where he’s participating in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

“It definitely is a blessing to be a part of it,” Horne told The Pilot. “It just speaks to how much I worked on my game to get to this point. Definitely, it’s another layer of motivation, man. I want to come out here, for me, I’ve always been the type of player to (have a) chip on the shoulder (and) prove people wrong. So this is another opportunity for me to do that.”

Horne made his PIT debit Thursday night with the Portsmouth Partnership team. He led the team with 18 points, two assists and a steal in a 96-78 win over Sales Systems, Ltd.

N.C. State’s run through March Madness was nothing short of magical, so it makes sense that’s the word Horne uses to describe it. The Wolfpack entered the ACC Tournament with a 17-14 record and the No. 10 seed. N.C. State won five straight games in the tournament, including victories against No. 2 seed Duke, No. 3 seed Virginia and No. 1 seed North Carolina.

Horne averaged 16.3 points in the conference tournament, including a 29-point performance against North Carolina that helped deliver N.C. State its first ACC Tournament championship since 1987. His efforts earned him an all-tournament team nod.

“I think it’s hard because a lot of words can really kind of describe that whole experience, but I would just say ‘magical,’” Horne said. “Like to go through that and the odds we had to beat and to be the underdog the whole way, you don’t see that every day. So the fact that I was able to just be a part of that history and see everything that goes along with that, it was great.”

N.C. State entered the NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed and upset No. 6 seed Texas Tech, No. 2 seed Marquette and No. 4 seed Duke en route to its first Final Four appearance since 1983. The Wolfpack quickly became America’s team during the stretch.

Horne averaged 17.2 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, including back-to-back 20-point games against Duke in the Elite Eight and Purdue in the Final Four. His performances landed him on the all-tournament team and all-region team.

N.C. State’s March Madness run meant a little extra to Horne, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. Horne’s college career started at Illinois State, where he was an All-Missouri Valley Conference player for two seasons before transferring to Arizona State for two seasons.

Horne set out to make the most of his final college season. He averaged a team-high 16.9 points per game and 40% from beyond the arc, and was named to the All-ACC third team.

“That’s literally the reason why I came home to play at N.C. State, was to leave in the history books,” Horne said. “I felt like looking back at everything — (I) really haven’t even had time to do that — but just from all the attention and seeing the whole country almost get behind us, it definitely lets me know we did something right.”

Now, Horne is setting out to prove he isn’t just another March Madness-only star and that he has what it takes to play in the NBA.

“That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, man,” Horne said. “I’ve been the underdog, been under-recruited from out of high school, had to go the long route just to get back to N.C. State to do what I did. So nothing really changed from my whole game plan and everything that’s really gotten to this point.”

Michael Sauls, (757) 803-5774,