Dennis Horner again faces the basketball doubters - this time with a surgically placed pin in his right foot.
Horner excelled at Holy Spirit High School and played for North Carolina State University. The Somers Point resident played in eight games for the New Jersey - now Brooklyn - Nets in the NBA last season.
But the 6-foot-9 Horner broke his foot playing in an NBA Development League combine in Chicago in June.
Horner, 24, was playing in the last five minutes of the final game of the combine when he felt a sharp pain in his foot while running down the court.
"It was a freak accident," Horner said. "I was by myself on a fastbreak. As soon as it happened, I knew it was pretty bad."
He underwent surgery in New York City to repair the foot three weeks ago. He was in a cast for the first two weeks after the surgery and now wears a walking boot. A pin was placed in his foot to heal the fracture.
The injury cost Horner, an NBA free agent, a chance to play in summer leagues and showcase his skills to NBA scouts. He will begin rehabilitation in another three weeks.
"It was pretty rough at first," Horner said of the injury. "I was pretty upset. But I'm going to push myself hard to get back to where I need to be. I'm not going to give up on my dreams that I've been working my whole life for because of an injury."
Horner's basketball career has been about overcoming doubters.
He grew up in Linwood and starred at Holy Spirit, averaging 18.1 points as a senior and finishing with 1,274 career points.
Horner went on to play at North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Some local fans questioned whether Horner was talented enough to play in such a prestigious conference. He started 11 games in his first three seasons but showed he could play at an ACC level when he started 35 of 36 games a senior and averaged 11.9 points.
Few expected to Horner to make the Nets when he went to their preseason training camp last December. But he was one of the biggest surprises in camp and made the team.
"For him, it's been persistence and perseverance," Holy Spirit coach Jamie Gillespie said. "He's worked through when everybody said he couldn't do it. He's persisted through the naysayers."
Horner spent two stints with the Nets last season. His best game came Dec. 7 when he scored four points in eight minutes against the Atlanta Hawks.
Despite the lack of playing time, Horner relished his NBA experience.
"I never expected I would make an NBA team," he said. "Now that I've been on an NBA team, my confidence is sky-high."
Horner is a versatile player. He is a good outside shooter for a player his size.
Although he still can't run, Horner works on improving his strength daily at Oceanside Wellness & Sport in Egg Harbor Township.
Horner can't play in the summer, but he hopes the Nets invite him to preseason camp again in October. He hopes to be completely healthy by September.
Horner's game is suited for today's NBA, in which teams are trying to copy the model of the NBA champion Miami Heat by signing three All-Stars to expensive contracts.
The Nets last week agreed to re-sign point guard Deron Williams to a five-year $98 million deal, and traded with the Atlanta Hawks for shooting guard Joe Johnson, who is scheduled to make nearly $20 million in 2012-13, according to ESPN. com. The Nets are rumored to be one of the teams most likely to trade for Orlando Magic star center Dwight Howard.
With three superstars and a salary cap, the Nets would be looking for role players who could sink open shots, as Shane Battier and Mike Miller did for the Heat in the NBA playoffs.
"They're looking for players they can get cheap," Horner said.
Horner then was reminded that the minimum NBA salary in 2012-13 will be $473,604.
"It's not that cheap," he said with a laugh.
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