Feature Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Action Photos By Nolan P. Schmidt
You can take one look at North Dakota State sophomore guard Jordan Horn and assume he’s your everyday, normal Division I basketball player. However, as you talk with Horn and hear his story, you’ll find the St. Paul, Minnesota, native is anything but ordinary. Horn’s life has seen its trials and triumphs, just like any other. Yet, given where he came from and the forces working against him, no one could have guessed that Jordan Horn would make it to North Dakota State in the first place.
Horn grew up on the east side of St. Paul, an area he still has a great deal of affinity for. In fact, he has the city’s skyline tattooed on the inside of his left arm. Though he loves where he came from, the east side of St. Paul has some of the highest crime rates in the area. What may be considered shocking to some was just normal for Jordan Horn growing up. “It’s kind of the inner city area, I lived on the better side of it. It definitely does get a little rough. Where I grew up and the people I was around, it was all in kind of a bad area,” Horn said. “I was always around the bad things whether it be drugs, gang violence, I was always around that stuff as a kid. Growing up, playing outside, going to the park, I always saw that stuff. That’s what I grew up around.”
The 6-foot-2 sophomore did not grow up in the most traditional of homes either. Horn and his biological brother Brandon were raised by Carla and Paul Thompson, their grandparents. Carla is Jordan’s biological grandmother while Paul has no blood relation to Horn. Obviously, he stills considers Thompson to be his grandfather. Horn’s parents were often traveling, creating an unstable environment for Jordan and Brandon. “My mom and dad were kind of in and out, they were traveling a lot. My mom was working, so they’d go from Minnesota to Chicago, Chicago to Florida, just kind of going back and forth,” Horn said. “That wasn’t very stable for me and my brother. Ever since I was born, my parents were always in and out.”
That’s not to say Horn’s mom and dad were distant when he was young. However, that changed when Horn was in middle school. “In eighth grade, my mom ended up leaving my dad, just kind of left out of nowhere. I was getting ready for a basketball game and I got pulled out of school, my dad called me and said she just left,” he said. “I haven’t really talked to her, talked to her maybe once after she left and ever since then I’ve probably talked to her one time in four years. Talked to her once last year, but haven’t spoken to her since. I don’t know where she’s at or anything. My dad has been around a lot lately, he’s been helping me financially and stuff because that hasn’t always been great in my household. My grandparents, they raised me and they’re like my mom and dad in a sense.”
Jordan and Brandon were not the only ones living and growing up in their grandparents home. Horn has three older brothers outside of Brandon, those three brothers were either related to Jordan through mother or father only, not both. Yet, all of the siblings have lived in Carla and Paul’s house throughout their lifetime.
Because of his different parent dynamic, Horn went through his prep school years having to correct teachers and friends as to who his guardians were. He was quick to point out to friends that they should be grateful for a stable family dynamic. It is something Horn still preaches to this day on social media. “It was a lot different. Even for school conferences and stuff, people would say ‘have your mom and dad stop by’ and I would have to correct them and say my grandparents would be coming,” he said about the differences between having a traditional family and his own. “Seeing a lot of my friends in school or people around me, I would just say that they are really lucky and blessed to have a mom and dad that are still together, raised in a nice home, stuff like that. It’s been different, but I love it because it’s part of what makes me so unique and different.”
In his younger years, before diving deep into basketball, Horn says he almost got caught up in the bad influences surrounding him in the community. He says many young kids on the east side of St. Paul are attracted to that lifestyle and many get caught up in it for life too. “It’s easy to get caught around because when I’m at the park, I would walk there and walk right into that environment. There are people that I’m really close to that were in that and as a young kid, you really don’t have a choice but to be attracted to it because that is all you see and all you know. So as a young kid, I was attracted to that stuff and I wouldn’t say I was a bad kid, but I was just being a kid growing up in the environment he’s in,” he said. “I started to see that I couldn’t benefit from it in any way. There are fights, there are drugs, everything around me, you can stop the game and look around and see something happening. Basketball was just always that one thing that I could always go and get my mind clear of everything. It’s an escape from the outside world and what I grew up in, that was huge because basketball probably saved my life in that sense.”
As Horn alludes to, it was basketball that became his primary focus in life and not what was going on around him. From an early age, Jordan was interested in the sport, growing up playing in his backyard with his brothers. The fuel to compete was cultivated by playing with his older, bigger brothers. His middle school years was when he really began to focus his full attention on the game that brought him to Fargo. “Once I got into about middle school that was the point where I started to really love basketball and I wanted to make it something I do. I wanted to use it as a way out of my situation and my position of where I grew up. I’m the only man in the family to graduate high school and go to college, so that was really big for me,” Horn said. “Using basketball as a way out instead of many other ways I could’ve gone, basketball was the best thing for me. Fifth, sixth, seventh grade was when I would start getting off the bus and I wouldn’t go home, I’d go straight to the gym and workout for a little bit and then go home and go back a little later.”
That hard work and commitment to the game paid off for Horn. As he moved along in his prep career, he became a rising star in the Twin Cities metro area. By his senior season at Tartan High School, Horn was a Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist. He averaged 19 points per game in his final high school season. Before that, he averaged 17 points per contest in his sophomore and junior seasons. Surely the hard work did pay off, but Horn also had several outlets of support and motivation from his family and his community.
“There are fights, there are drugs, everything around me, you can stop the game and look around and see something happening. Basketball was just always that one thing that I could always go and get my mind clear of everything. It’s an escape from the outside world and what I grew up in, that was huge because basketball probably saved my life in that sense.” – Jordan Horn
“My grandparents were always number one supporters. To have older brothers of course and all those guys at the park who may have been doing those bad things and involved in the bad stuff in the area, they would always tell me to stick to basketball,” he said. “They would say I am going to be the one who makes it out and goes and makes us proud and go off to college and do all these great things. That was a huge motivation for me because I didn’t want to let my grandparents and family down, but I wanted to make my city proud of me. To know I did right and got out the right way.”
That’s not to say Horn’s basketball journey has been an easy either. His grandma, the woman who raised him, was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was young. She is still fighting the disease today. Though he did not understand the scope at first, he says his grandmother’s situation forced him to mature faster than others his age. “I remember when she told me when I was younger that she had Leukemia and I didn’t really know. I was young and didn’t really know what it was, but I knew cancer was never a good word to hear, so I knew it was bad,” he said. “Now that I’ve grown up and matured, I kind of knew the severity of her condition and I could see she was getting sicker and weaker.”
To this day, Horn admires his grandmother’s strength and courage but knows she remains in pain too. “She never shows it, that’s really the crazy thing about it. You could have never met her, but you can tell she’s up and moving and upbeat. She works every single day, only one working in my house back home. She goes grocery shopping every day after work, so she’s up and moving,” he said. “At the same time, I could hear her from my room back home up late at night, she’s crying, screaming, in pain, so when I got older I could realize that she was in a lot of pain.”
Horn coped with this news with basketball. He says he is often consumed by thoughts of what could happen to his grandmother. When that occurs, Horn hits the gym. “A lot of thoughts come into your head because I don’t want to lose her because she’s my number one,” he said. “Basketball was my everything, so if I start to think or my mind starts to wander what could happen, basketball was that one thing where my mind could get off everything.”
Despite Horn’s situation, he was still succeeding on the floor. However, he was not highly recruited coming out of high school. That was when he was offered and choose to continue his athletic and academic career at Siena College in Loudonville, New York. Playing in 30 games for the Saints, Horn averaged nearly eight points per game, including a 29-point game against Niagara on January 5, 2018. Despite the success at Siena, the distance from home kept eating at Horn. “It just happened to be 18 hours away from home. My grandma and my grandparents didn’t like the distance and I thought it’d be good to come closer. I definitely grew a lot as a man in that year, I learned a lot, but at the same time it was really hard to be away from my grandma and my grandpa,” Horn said. “I wouldn’t say I was trying to get away because where I’m from is part of me, part of my toughness, my make-up, my personality, so it never really leaves. Instead of glorifying what happens, I want to glorify where I came from and put my city on the map.”
So Horn decided to transfer away from Siena in hopes of finding a place closer to home. Lucky for him, North Dakota State head coach Dave Richman had his eyes on Horn dating back to his high school days. After talking with Richman and visiting campus, Horn decided to become a Bison with three seasons of eligibility remaining. Horn was impressed with Richman because of his care and want to accommodate Jordan’s two biggest fans, Carla and Paul Thompson.
“I definitely think it’s a lot like home. When I was going through the transfer process and talking with Dave, he was very comfortable with me. He made sure that not only I was a priority, but he was talking to my grandparents a lot, which was big,” Horn says of the transfer process. “Fargo is a place that’s a lot like home, it’s three hours away which is amazing. My grandma got to see me for the first time in college, so that was super nice to see her and spend some time with her. I see a lot of people I went to high school with and it’s close to home, it’s a lot like home. It just has everything I need to be successful.”
In his first season in Fargo, Horn has played in 19 games, averaging just over four points per game. Of those 19 games, Horn has scored in double figures three times. This includes a 10-point performance against South Dakota on December 29 that was instrumental in a Bison victory.
Since coming to Fargo, Horn has found a new way to express himself other than basketball. He has taken up rapping and music as an outlet to share his voice. “It’s just like a sport. I think music, poetry, sports, whatever, it’s just an escape from reality,” he said. “It gives you a chance to release whatever is inside of you and put it out in words or a book, whatever it is. It’s just a good way to express my feelings and get that stuff out of my head.”
Of the nine tracks on Horn’s SoundCloud page, almost all of them are deep dives into his life, upbringing and where he came from. The words are as personal and deep as any popular rapper today.
It would be easy for Jordan Horn to be cynical. Being what he has been through, seeing what he has seen, any regular person would fight negativity with more negativity. As you are well aware by now, Jordan Horn is not an ordinary person, he is unique. Rather than have a negative outlook on life because of his circumstances, he is as positive as any human you’ll meet. Whether on the court or off, you can see that Horn exudes positivity and happiness. A far cry from the situation he was brought up in.
“My whole outlook is that I’ve been through so much in my life and I’ve seen so many bad things, lost some people to where I don’t think anything can put me down. No matter what, I want to be positive no matter what and have a positive outlook on life,” he said. “Whenever things aren’t going good, just knowing that things will eventually get better. I’m always going to be the best and most positive person on the court, off the court, locker room, on the bus, plane, whatever, I want to be the most positive person.”
Tupac Shakur once wrote a poem entitled “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”. It was written between 1989 and 1991, but not released until after Shakur died. He speaks of a rose that defies nature by growing through a crack in the concrete. Shakur personifies the rose, saying it had dreams and stayed true to those dreams, to the point that it began to breathe.
Jordan Horn is a rose that grew from the concrete. He believed he could rise and grow in the most unlikely of places, a place where many are confined beneath the surface. He stayed true to his dreams and his aspirations. In turn, he continues to breathe freely above the surface at North Dakota State.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete.