REGGIE HAYES: Though tempted, Reggie Hearn never quit in journey from under-recruited Snider High School player to Detroit Pistons prospect
Reggie Hearn’s two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons requires being ready at a moment’s notice.
Hearn is part of both the Pistons and their NBA G League team, the Grand Rapids Drive. When the lines cross, he ends up behind the wheel in a flash.
“If something happens during shoot-around or someone comes down sick, they’ll call me up,” Hearn said in a recent phone interview. “There was one instance where the Drive had a game at 7 in Grand Rapids and the Pistons had one the same night at 7. A little before 4, I get a call. Could I come over to the game in Detroit? It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive.”
Hearn hit the highway. When you are so close to the NBA, literally and figuratively, you take off.
The opportunity is especially motivating for Hearn, the Snider High School and Northwestern University alum who spent this week with the Pistons and has epitomized a never-quit attitude that few have been able to sustain so long.
Hearn, 26, was not heavily recruited out of high school, despite helping Snider to a Class 4A state runnerup finish. He chose to walk on at Northwestern, then ultimately earned a scholarship and became a starter and the team’s leading scorer. Undrafted by the NBA, he started from the bottom up in the G League (then the D-League) and eventually was released by Idaho before signing with Reno.
“There have definitely been times I wanted to give up,” Hearn said. “But ultimately, any time I got really close to that point, God would do something that kept me on the path and kept me encouraged. He’s have somebody surround me and lift me up.”
Hearn’s father, Crane Hearn, said Reggie has learned over the course of his career that moving up the basketball ladder requires working overtime. Reggie has changed positions over the year, from an inside player in high school to a perimeter player in college. He has value to sell because he can give a team minutes as an offensive shooter or a lock-down defender.
“Just like any other industry, you get disappointed at times and we have talks, face-to-face and over the phone,” Crane Hearn said. “I said, ‘Reggie, you have to understand. Anything worth having is worth working hard for. You can’t just expect to waltz in. You’ve always been an underdog.’ ”
Keeping the faith
Reggie Hearn said he became a devout Christian after college and always mentions his faith as a pivotal factor in his journey. He says that faith helped him receive prompting on what he needs to do on his end to pursue his basketball dream.
The summer of 2015 was pivotal.
“I was coming off my second year in the D-League, and it hadn’t gone how I wanted it to,” Hearn said. “I was released by Idaho and I was going to Reno and I was really questioning whether I wanted to continue on. That’s when God was saying I needed to improve my work ethic.”
Hearn’s mother, Lisa, wasn’t surprised that he buckled down and forged ahead.
“Nowadays, even adults give up on things a lot,” she said. “Reggie’s had his ups and downs but ultimately it’s a passion for him. I’m incredibly proud of him for sticking with it.”
Hearn spent that summer working as intently on his game as he ever has, had a great camp and had earned a starting spot. The first game, Sacramento sent an NBA player down and he was installed in Hearn’s lineup spot. Hearn played about 20 minutes and failed to score.
“I remember how discouraged I was,” Hearn said. “It was like, ‘Come on, God, you encouraged me to keep playing and not even one point?’
“The next game, at Bakersfield, the guy went back up to the Kings. I scored a career-high 30 points and hit eight threes in the game. That was kind of a reminder that he wouldn’t leave me languishing for long.”
Hearn’s faith is the foundation of his life, his father said, and he has talked about becoming a pastor when his playing days are over.
“Basketball means a lot to Reggie, and he comes from a basketball family,” Crane Hearn said. “But what a lot of people don’t know about Reggie is his main focus is dedication to the gospel and the kingdom. The NBA is a platform to share the gospel. His whole focus is living for God.”
NBA debut at last
Reaching the NBA from Fort Wayne hasn’t been easy. Only a handful of Fort Wayne natives have been in the league, including Walter Jordan, Henry James and current rookie Caleb Swanigan, who has been spending time in the G League.
Hearn found out after this season’s G League Showcase that the Pistons were interested in signing him to a two-way deal. The contract allows for the Pistons to use him with the NBA team for a specific number of days, with the rest of his time spent in Grand Rapids.
He signed the deal, and due to injuries, was sent straight to the Pistons. Not long after that, he made his first NBA appearance, entering a game late and hitting his only shot, a three-pointer.
“(Pistons teammate) Reggie Bullock passes me the ball,” Hearn said. “The bench behind me is yelling ‘Shoot it!’ so I shot it.”
After the game, Blake Griffin handed Hearn the game ball.
That moment served to drive Hearn even more. His Grand Rapids coaches shared a quote from James Harden about how success has driven Harden to work harder. Hearn can relate.
Hearn made a brief appearance in the Pistons’ 99-83 win Friday over the Chicago Bulls, but did not get a chance to score.
“I’ve tasted scoring in the NBA, I’ve tasted a little bit of the NBA,” Hearn said. “But it’s no different than when I was at Northwestern. I played a couple minutes here and there my freshman year, looking to get in and get some more minutes.”
Hearn’s brief taste of the NBA has proved sweet. Like he has throughout his career, Hearn will keep pushing for a permanent spot at the table.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.