- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- What senior guard Reggie Hearn did at Northwestern on the court, which recently culminated into an all-conference honorable mention selection, can be attributed to the countless hours he put into his game.
How he ended up here and ever saw the floor during his four years with the Wildcats was more by chance.
Leading up to Northwestern’s first-round Big Ten tournament game with Iowa on Thursday, Hearn recently reflected on his journey from being barely recruited to becoming a Northwestern walk-on to now being the team’s leading scorer.
It’s a tale Hearn doesn’t mind sharing, and it’s one he certainly doesn’t take for granted. While he never doubted he had the ability to play in the Big Ten, he does understand it was only by chance he was able to prove that.
“To be honest with you, I reflect a lot on my good fortune,” Hearn said. “I think a lot of people of will say, ‘It’s a great story. He worked hard and everything.’ I remember a quote coach [Bill] Carmody said about me at the beginning of the year about Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers,’ about a lot of successful people attribute to their hard work and everything, but the opportunities they had are really what get them there.
“You see, with me starting last year, we had two guys ahead of me get injured. Do I see the floor much last year if they don’t get injured? I don’t know. It was just a matter of me being able to capitalize on very fortuitous opportunities that came up for me.”
Hearn’s journey began when former Northwestern assistant Mitch Henderson, who is now Princeton's head coach, took a liking to Hearn’s game.
Hearn, at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, played an undersized post position due to a team need at Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.; he never was able to show off his guard skills and shooting touch. It led to one Division II full-ride offer and walk-on interest at Butler, Northwestern and Notre Dame.
Carmody recalled Henderson vouching for Hearn, then offering Hearn a spot on the team.
“I just remember Mitch telling me this kid is pretty good,” Carmody said. “I just remember sitting over [in the bleachers] with him, and I think his mom telling him I’ll give him a chance but there’s no scholarship.”
Hearn recalled what Henderson told him, too.
“He said best-case scenario would be I play my junior year,” Hearn said. “It’s funny because he was right.”
Hearn played a total of 25 minutes in 13 games as a freshman walk-on. He received a scholarship prior to his sophomore season, but he still played only a total of 47 minutes in 19 games as a sophomore.
Frustration was growing for Hearn throughout that time, but he kept hearing from his teammates, especially captain Michael “Juice” Thompson, that his hard work would eventually pay off.
“I saw the potential and how skilled he was,” Thompson said recently. “I knew he could come and play at that level. Even in practice, he was the go-to guy on the scout team. I thought he could play with us.”
Hearn kept his head up and continued working, and his opportunity did come at the beginning of his junior season.
When a series of injuries beset the Wildcats’ roster at the start of the season, Carmody had no choice but to use Hearn as the team’s primary shooting guard in practice. What happened next, Carmody never expected.
“Then, they couldn’t beat him,” Carmody said. “Why would I take this guy out now? That was it. I knew he could play a little bit because I had seen him for two years and stuff. I didn’t realize he would have the impact and he’d be able to so easily make the transition from not playing to playing a lot.”
Hearn’s junior year consisted of one personal milestone followed by another. He played 28 minutes in the team’s season opener. He scored a career-high 15 points in the season’s seventh game. He broke that and scored 17 in the 10th game. He was 5-of-6 from the field in an upset of Michigan State. He set a new career high with 20 points against Illinois.
As a senior, it’s been more of the same for Hearn. He’s developed into a consistent, all-around scorer and has put up double digits in 22 games this season. He’s had four games of 20-plus points, including a career-high 26 points against Purdue. Overall, he averaged 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals this season.
Carmody often wonders if he should have had him on the floor as a freshman.
“You’re looking at yourself and saying, 'Did I make a mistake by not playing him right off the bat?'” Carmody said.
Hearn doesn’t have any regrets, though. His career has worked out as well as he could have hoped. He’s even humbled by the thought others could hear his tale and be moved themselves.
“It’s always great to know what you have done can inspire others,” Hearn said. “I know some players from back home, they’re looking at my story; maybe it gives them hope they can do something similar.
“Even on the team here, seeing [junior guard James Montgomery III], who has a similar story, maybe he can be a very good contributor for this team. It’s nice to know maybe what I can do is able to serve as an inspiration.”