Column: Harrison Hornery makes successful transition from Down Under to Mater Dei

Australian Harrison Hornery of Santa Ana Mater Dei will be competing in Open Division playoffs before heading to USC.
(Nick Koza)


That’s been the reaction of Santa Ana Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight as he tries to translate the Australian accent of his star player, 6-foot-10 Harrison Hornery.

“When he talks quickly, I think he must feel I’m getting old. I can’t understand him,” McKnight said.

Four years ago, Hornery arrived from Toowoomba, a city in Australia about a one-hour drive from Brisbane. The population there is 136,000. Living with a host family in Mission Viejo, Hornery soon discovered he was far from home based on traffic alone. He has cherished his journey on and off the court and has loved it so much he signed with USC to continue his West Coast stay.

“I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve gotten,” he said.

Averaging 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds, the 19-year-old senior helped lead Mater Dei to a 26-1 record and begins play in the Southern Section Open Division playoffs on Friday at home against La Verne Damien. The Monarchs won’t have injured center Wilhelm Breidenbach, but a determined Hornery said, “I love him to death. We just have to go out and play hard.”


It has been more than 14 months since Horney saw his parents because of COVID-19 restrictions. He made the decision to stay here when schools closed last March rather than return to Australia not knowing when travel restrictions might change.

He speaks to his parents every day via FaceTime, but missing out on the occasional hug from mom and dad requires mental toughness from any teenager. It has certainly prepared him for dorm life in college. That begins on July 1 when summer school starts at USC. He’ll know how to do laundry and is unlikely to feel homesickness since Southern California is his new home.

Hornery is beginning to understand the advantages of learning to be independent at 15 and knowing how to respond when you’re far from home and the coach tells you to be patient when you’re sitting on the bench. He didn’t play much as a freshman but was told his time would come. And it has.

“It’s pretty much what I expected it to be,” Hornery said. “It’s been a really fun four years. I’ve learned a lot.”

He said it was always in the plan for him to come to America to play basketball. He wanted the challenge of top competition.


Hornery should be an ideal recruit for the Trojans. He loves the West Coast, has received terrific experiences playing in the Open Division and if USC goes on a foreign trip in the next few years to, let’s say, Australia, he’ll be a great tour guide for finding koalas, beaches and shrimp on the barbie.

USC coach Andy Enfield might need one of his assistants to occasionally interpret Hornery’s Australian accent, but it is definitely evolving after four years in America.

“I think it’s changed,” Hornery said. “My parents recognize how it’s different.”

Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight has lost 70 pounds since cutting out soda.
(Nick Koza)

McKnight changes: It was back in March 2020, when the COVID-19 epidemic began, that the winningest basketball coach in California history made a life-changing decision. McKnight stopped drinking diet soda.

He said he was consuming “15 a day.” He said he lost 50 pounds switching to unsweetened ice tea and water. When he contracted COVID-19 around Christmas, his earlier weight loss might have saved his life. He recovered with the help of antibiotics and steroids with no hospitalization. His weight loss is now at 70 pounds.

“I haven’t had a diet soda since a year ago March,” he said.