It hasn’t quite been three full years since Taevon Horton was named the Bill Evans Award winner as West Virginia’s top high school basketball player.
The former Fairmont Senior standout is now at his third college since his Polar Bear playing days ended, though he’s continued to excel on the hardwood.
After spending his freshman season as a walk-on at West Virginia University and his sophomore campaign at Missouri State-West Plains, Horton settled on the University of Pikeville — a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) located 4 hours south of Horton’s hometown.
“I love the program and what they’ve done in the past,” Horton said, referencing a rich history that includes a 2011 NAIA Division I National Championship. “I plan on spending my next year-and-a-half here.”
How Horton got to Pikeville is unique in itself. After a stellar career at FSHS, which included being the leading scorer on the 2017 Class AA state champion and the state’s top player the next year on a runner-up squad, Horton walked on at WVU. He appeared in 11 games for the Mountaineers during the 2018-2019 season, playing 34 minutes and scoring 10 points.
Horton then embarked on a new journey in the midwest, averaging 13.1 points at Missouri State-West Plains and scoring double digits in 23 of 29 games for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I program.
With several West Virginia connections on the Pikeville coaching staff, however, the Bears were able to land Horton prior to his junior season. Pikeville assistant coach Sid Crist was on Fairmont State’s staff from 2013-2016, while associate head coach Evan Faulkner was previously the head coach at Ripley High School as well as an assistant coach and player at University of Charleston.
“Coach Crist had been at Fairmont State and helped run their basketball camps I went to in middle school and high school,” Horton said. “He reached out to me after last season and there was something about this connection.”
Horton was then introduced to Tigh Compton, a longtime Pikeville assistant now in his first year as head coach.
“The first time we spoke to each other, he FaceTimed me,” Horton recalled. “Having been recruited by a couple different coaches out of high school and JUCO, that really stuck out to me. Then I learned about the history of this program and the championship in 2011 and that’s kind of what drew me here.”
Thus far, the results have mostly been positive for Horton.
Horton is one of four Bears averaging double figures at 11.7 points per game. He is second on the team with 24 3-pointers while shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc. Horton is also adding 4.3 rebounds and more than one steal per game on average.
“Where he’s been most impactful for us is with his ability to shoot the basketball, his ability to defend and his toughness,” Compton said. “Obviously playing any amount of time for Bob Huggins adds toughness and he competes really hard. But his biggest impact for us has been his shooting ability.”
Horton has started in nine of his 12 appearances and is playing an average of 28.3 minutes. His two best performances came earlier this month when the 6-foot-2 junior had 29 and 27 points in consecutive contests against Cumberlands and Freed-Hardeman. Horton made 18-of-31 field goals and 11-of-19 triples over the two games.
However, in Pikeville’s next game, Horton was scoreless and missed all seven of his shots against Bethel. He has sat out the Bears’ last two games while rehabbing a hamstring injury, though he’s hopeful to return soon — perhaps as early as Thurday’s game at Life.
“He had two really good games in a row and then kind of a dud, and he was playing through the injury and trying to gut it out,” Compton said. “We figured it was best time to give him some time off.”
As Pikeville (6-8) strives for continued progress, Horton has been asked to provide leadership for a team with 11 juniors and seniors on its roster.
Compton has seen what he’s looking for from Horton on and off the court.
“We really challenged him academically and he finished the first semester with over a 3.0 GPA,” Compton said. “There’s no reason to think he won’t continue on that path. He’s buckled down, taken things seriously and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Horton says the trust from his coaching staff and teammates makes him feel at ease.
“My coaching staff trusts me and it’s outstanding to have the trust of my guys,” Horton said. “That goes a long way with me trying to lead. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy because we all are in the same class or close to it. As a leader, you also have to sit back and take advice given to you, especially when it comes from guys that have been in the fire themselves.”
Although most of Horton’s time is spent in the Bluegrass State these days, he says he regularly keeps up with former WVU teammtes, including James “Beetle” Bolden, Esa Ahmad and current players Derek Culver and Jalen Bridges. Bridges and Horton were teammates in high school.
“I learned so much at West Virginia,” Horton said. “What I took from there was all about preparation. When you have a game Saturday, it’s how you prepare all through the week that matters. It’s unbelievable how much we prepared not just for games, but for practices. There’s nothing like that.”