By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Chris Horton, assistant men's basketball coach at Willamette University, has combined his education with a variety of life and coaching experiences to become a tremendous young coach with the Bearcats.
Horton is in his second season at Willamette. He assists with all aspects of the basketball program and is directly involved in recruiting, analytics, and the skill development of Willamette's players. He received a Bachelor of Science in Business Management degree from the University of Florida with a minor in Entrepreneurship, in December of 2012.
One of Horton's most important experiences impacting his coaching style was not on the basketball court or in the classroom. It was in Macy's stores.
"Being a sales manager at Macy's is the non-basketball job that has influenced my effectiveness, style, etc. as a basketball coach," Horton commented. "Being a retail manager challenges your communication, patience, ability to deal with uncertainty, planning, ability to work with a team of other leaders, and so many other things. One of the things I constantly pull-on is what that experience taught me about communicating and relating to different people. At one point, I was managing a diverse team of 40 people, including an 18-year-old African-American male and a 73-year-old Brazilian woman representing the opposite ends of the team's diversity spectrum. Even when you have to give them similar objectives, the way you relate, bond, communicate, and lead two people who are so fundamentally different is an awesome challenge that I enjoyed every day."
He also has been a coach at several different levels, but it was working with youth basketball players that Horton singled out as being most impactful for him.
"As far as pure basketball roles, the job that has influenced me most -- outside of the year with Coach Ioane -- is definitely coaching youth basketball," Horton added. "The amount of learning opportunities I had as a youth coach really fast-tracked my growth and knowledge of the game. In just the year before I became a college coach, I head coached two travel basketball teams, one school team, assisted on another school team, and assisted as many games as I could for my travel basketball club. This exposure to a bunch of different teams in a short time forced me to try different coaching styles, implement different systems based on the personnel of each team, and follow the lead of head coaches."
During the year that Horton coached so many teams, he was a head coach for about 150 games and worked as an assistant coach at about 50 games. Horton indicated that the number of games he coached that year was equivalent to the number of games in six college seasons as a head coach and two seasons as an assistant coach.
"I've been fortunate enough to be a young leader in many settings ... sales manager of 40 to 50 people and an $8 million department at 21, Taylor Athletes basketball director of operations at 23, professional basketball general manager at 24, assistant national director of USSSA Basketball at 25," Horton noted. "Being a young leader in these various settings taught me to listen. I had to listen to other people to learn and grow. It was in those settings that I also learned to collaborate, lead with and through others, and acknowledge that my ideas aren't always right or the best."
His year as the general manager of the Texas Sky Riders resulted in a huge impact on his ability to lead and to coach.
"My experience with Texas Sky Riders was the first time I got to work around pro basketball for an extended period of time," Horton recalled. "At the American Basketball Association level, none of my players were making enough money for basketball to be their sole income. So to have some of our guys working 50+ hours a week and still giving the team everything they had to prepare and play games was amazing to me."
It was also challenging to lead players who were older than Horton.
"Working for Texas Sky Riders, when your players are older than you and better basketball players than you ever were, titular power wasn't even an option and it really forced me to build relationships, understand my players, employees, and bosses," Horton said. "That approach made me effective there, helped me earn staff member of the year in my lone year, and more importantly helped me build lasting relationships."
James Taylor, the founder of Taylored Athletes, also helped Horton develop as a leader.
"Taylored Athletes is where I got to work with my biggest mentor and champion, James Taylor," Horton commented. "Beyond work and beyond basketball, James taught me life lessons that I'll never forget. He's always believed in my dream and vision of becoming a general manager in the NBA, and he's done everything possible to support hat, including encouraging me to take the Texas Sky Riders general manager job."
In his current job with the Bearcats, much of Horton's time is spent on skill development for each of Willamette's men's basketball players. It is a process that is different for each player and changes a bit each game depending on the opponent.
"Player skill development stands out as something that I have complete ownership of," Horton said. "I want to be as detail-oriented and meticulous as I can when I build out skill development plans for each player. I'm always trying to coach in a way that players can leave and continue to grow on their own. Everything is purposeful and translates directly to what players need to be successful in our offensive schemes, defensive schemes, and game situations. As our players, schemes, and context changes and evolves, so do I.
"Chris Horton ranks as one of the people most attuned to developing the whole student-athlete on and off the court that I have ever worked with," Willamette Head Coach Kip Ioane said. "He combines a keen intellect, a passion for the game, and the ability to diversity his coaching approach and style to what best fits the individual player. He is someone I whole-heartedly trust developing our guys."
According to Justus Eaglesmith (Sparks NV/Spanish Springs HS), a senior guard on this year's team, Horton has been tremendous at helping players elevate their skills.
"Coach Chris and I have very in-depth conversations about basketball, even beyond the X and O's," Eaglesmith said. "Coach Chris has raised my basketball IQ and understanding of the game. His intelligence about the game is contagious and it made me want to be able to understand the game well enough so that I could debate and ultimately learn from him. Something that we often do is make our own assumptions on how teams will play defensively and offensively to exploit the other team and whether that outcome will work or not. These simple conversations ... alone are enough to make you a better basketball player without even touching a ball."
Jack Boydell (Sonoma, CA/Sonoma Valley HS), a sophomore forward for the Bearcats, agreed that Horton has significantly impacted player development.
"Coach Chris is one of a kind in his love for coaching the game and his attention to detail through preparation," Boydell commented. "Constantly striving to help us improve, he has been a great resource for me since the moment I stepped on campus. I credit a lot of my first-year growth as a player to Coach Chris's unwavering support.
"He does a great job incorporating film during individual training sessions that applies directly to the skills being worked on while on the court," Boydell added. "Coach Chris never misses a teaching or learning opportunity as he is always sending us applicable basketball content from NBA games."
Since arriving at Willamette, Horton has continued to develop his coaching style. He credits Ioane for helping him grow as a coach.
"The most important thing I do is spend time around Kip," Horton said. "Kip is, without question, one of the most thoughtful, innovative leaders coaching in the country. Every minute spent around Kip makes me a better coach, a more thoughtful and introspective leader, and a better resource for our student-athletes.
"This job has been a perfect fit for me, largely because working for Kip has been a dream," Horton continued. "Based on information that Kip and staff shared during the interview process, I knew that I identified with the ideals and philosophies that Kip had installed. Getting to work here has just been a daily confirmation. Whenever I (move on to) my next position, there are so many things that I will take and model from Kip, from basketball-specific things to relationship building and communication."