Reggie Hearn was not supposed to be here.
The senior guard was an undersized post player at high school in Fort Wayne, Ind., and earned zero scholarship offers from Division I colleges, only getting looks from smaller, local schools. After walking on at Northwestern, he played an average of only 2.2 minutes per game during his freshman and sophomore seasons. But last season, after injuries to JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio, Hearn started each of the team’s 33 games as they came closer than ever before to earning an NCAA Tournament berth.
Now Hearn is entrenched as one of the senior leaders of a Wildcat squad full of newcomers. He is far away from the days of “scrub minutes,” as he described them, and has clearly proven he belongs right where he is. North by Northwestern sat down with Hearn about his darker days on the bench, his rise to starting role and the team's chances of finally dancing in March.
When you grew up, did you have dreams of playing Division I college basketball?
When I was really little, yeah I did. I always told my mom I was going to go to the NBA and buy her a lake house because she loves being on the water. Either a lake house or a beach house.
As I got into middle school and I started struggling a little bit, those dreams kind of faded. But I never could really leave the game. There have been a couple points where I thought about stopping. One was at one point [before] high school.
Then after high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to play in college but couldn’t leave the game. Ended up walking on here. There were a couple times when I wasn’t getting playing time, my mind would wander. I would be like, "Do I still want to play?"
Is that while you were here [at Northwestern]?
Yeah, while I was here the first couple years not playing. I should have expected not to play, especially in the first year. [That was] just frustration. I was never really going to leave the game. I’m glad I stuck with it.
What were the struggling moments in middle school and high school when you were thinking, maybe this isn’t for me?
Back when I was younger, like elementary school, I used to dominate. I was really good.
In my youth, I was dominating so I didn’t really work on my game. In middle school [it] caught up with me. All these other kids [were] sprouting up. It really hurt my confidence a lot. Then I got to high school. My dad was talking to me, saying, ‘You need to get stronger. You need to start working out by yourself like you used to." I used to act like I was Kobe and be out in the driveway shooting. Well I got away from that, so I started getting back in the gym. I ended up working out with the football team starting my sophomore year, getting stronger. That eventually helped me become a decent high school player.
And then as far as after high school, just the fact that I didn’t get a lot of recruitment – at least from the Division I level, which was what I wanted – kind of deterred me. But I ended up making the decision to walk on here at Northwestern, thinking that down the line I might have a chance to play. And lucky me, that happened.
Was there any point, freshman or sophomore year specifically, where you thought doing this basketball thing might have run its course?
Maybe the first inkling was maybe towards the start of sophomore year, which would have been the preseason when we’re going hard. There’s a couple weeks of practice and no games. I’m kind of out of shape so it’s really hurting and I’m not sure if I’m going to play or not. That was kind of tough on me. But once I kind of got into the heat of the season – we started playing games, the crowds, the big games – that’s what I play the game for. There was no chance of me leaving after that.
You had mentioned that you had thought at points about quitting in middle school and high school and then persevered. You had then reached the point where, even though you weren’t getting a lot of minutes out on the court, you were playing for a Division I program. Do you think having gone through that helped you break through to the next level here at Northwestern?
Absolutely. I remember talking to my dad after high school – do I want to play in college? He was talking about earlier in middle school and how I wasn’t sure I wanted to play anymore. Each time I’ve thought about it, I’ve looked back and realized what I got through before. Just because this is at a higher level, doesn’t mean you can’t persevere and keep on just like you did before.
How does the person who was thinking about giving it up compare, as a basketball player, to the person that was starting games as a junior? What leaps did you make?
I would say probably confidence is the biggest factor. My confidence now is much [higher] than it was even last year.
When I wasn’t playing, that kind of hurt my confidence, as I think it would anybody's .... Once I got out there junior year and started playing – and was able to somehow keep the starting spot – my confidence just continued to grow. I think that’s the biggest difference. I think confidence is one of, if not the, most important factor when it comes to playing this game.
It seemed like Coach Carmody and the whole coaching staff’s confidence grew in you too. I believe it was the Purdue game at home. Robbie Hummel ended up hitting a shot at the end to beat you guys but right before that there was a play that was drawn up for you and you scored off a drive.
That was big for me. I think that showed that Coach Carmody had some confidence in me. It always helps me as a player knowing my coach has confidence in me. It gives me more confidence. And in my opinion, I by no means deserved it that game. I think I had five turnovers. I had not played well. But I think he just saw a chance for me to beat my defender off the dribble. I remember earlier in the season, there had been an article about Drew [Crawford] and Johnny [Shurna] and how they were our big scorers – which they were. They were top five in the conference. We, as a team, wanted them to be the ones taking the shot at the end of the game. So after that Purdue game, I remembered that and said still Coach Carmody put the ball in my hands at the end of the game. He has confidence in me. That gave me more confidence and that really gave me a boost.
You had played in the post in high school. What has it been like moving to the perimeter at Northwestern? It seems like it’s helped you to a degree. You’re a smaller player relatively out on the court now playing some wing, but once you get down there you can be effective.
In high school I played power forward so I wasn’t really prepared to play the guard spot. But I played guard back in middle school [and] at the start of high school, so I had those instincts. They’ve come back to me now that I’m playing guard at Northwestern. I think it’s the same thing as far as big man goes. Playing big man in high school kind of prepared me, even though I play guard now. Those big man instincts, post moves, are coming back to me now that last year I’ve been employed in some of those situations. So I think that’s really helped me develop a more all-around offensive game.
Did you know anything about the history of Northwestern basketball when you initially came here? Since you’ve gotten here, all the talk has been about NCAA Tournament and taking the next step.
To be honest, I hadn’t heard much about Northwestern coming in. To be honest with you, what I knew was that they weren’t that good of a team. But I do remember I knew who “Juice” Thompson was. It seemed like a program on the rise and I just remember thinking maybe I can somehow be a part of a team that is going to make the NCAA Tournament for the very first time. Now, three years later, I’m looking at my last chance to help. I’m really hoping we can do it this year.
Last year, at certain points, you had to think it was going to be the year. Has that stuck with you the whole offseason that a couple different bounces and things could have gone the other way?
Absolutely. My mom has a lot of the games at home on DVR. I watched all of them while I was home. I think they were all Big Ten games. I watched the Michigan game at home, watching for things. ‘What could you have done, Reggie? What could we have done as a team?" I watched the Ohio State game. I watched all these games and I’m sure the other guys are doing it too. It’s just going to serve as fuel because we definitely do not want that to happen again. It’s just way too many close games the last year. We don’t mind the close games as long as we come out on top. So we’re looking forward to making that happen.