Wildcat fans who have been surprised to see junior shooting guard Reggie Hearn trot out with the starting lineup in Northwestern's games this season are not alone. Coach Bill Carmody says he would have been in the same page of those fans going into the season.
"You don't think that that's going to happen when you have somebody that's walking on," Carmody said of Hearn starting. "But last year, he looked good in practices and so I was saying, 'I've got to think about him a little differently. He's competing here at a nice level.' He earned his spot."
Entering the 2011-12 season, guards JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio were each battling injuries, which left an opportunity waiting on Hearn's doorstep. It is an opportunity he jumped on and has refused to relinquish.
Hearn, who walked on as a freshman and earned a scholarship the following year, played only a combined 72 minutes over his first two years with the Wildcats. This season, he has started each of the team's 15 games and is averaging 5.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and an assist in 20.3 minutes per game.
Hearn had his best game for the 11-4 Wildcats against Central Connecticut State on Dec. 17. That's the night he went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and 6-of-7 from the field overall in scoring a career- and game-high 17 points in leading the Wildcats to a 70-64 win over the pesky Blue Devils.
Carmody cited Hearn's work ethic and performance in scrimmages and exhibition games during the offseason as motives for inserting him into the lineup. But the notion of him taking over as the starting 2-guard at any Division I school, let alone one in the Big Ten, was quite farfetched coming out of high school.
Hearn was the team captain at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Snider on a team that finished as the state championship runner-up. Despite his high school success, Hearn flew under the radar with most colleges because he played out of position. Snider was vertically challenged, so the 6-foot-4 Hearn played power forward, a position he would have no hope of playing at the next level.
But Carmody and former Northwestern assistant Mitch Henderson saw potential in Hearn, and a tryout led to him walking on to the team in 2009-10.
"He could do everything decently, nothing great," Carmody said of Hearn's skills coming out of high school. "But he could dribble the ball pretty decently, he got to the basket, sort of like a slasher a little bit, and he loved to play."
Hearn faced a steep learning curve in learning to play guard, especially while simultaneously trying to learn the idiosyncrasies of the Princeton offense and the 1-3-1 zone the Wildcats so frequently run.
"Playing scout team the past couple years, (my teammates) made me commit a lot of turnovers in practice," he said laughing. "So it's been a good learning experience for me."
Carmody did not rule out Cobb or Marcotullio returning to the starting lineup once they are back to 100-percent health, but Hearn has certainly moved beyond the scout team. He was on scholarship last season, and it was renewed for this year as well.
For a 6-foot-4 high school power forward without any other serious Division I basketball prospects, Hearn is just enjoying the ride. He certainly has made more out of his opportunity at Northwestern than anyone could have imagined.