By Clara Facchetti
LOS ANGELES — When Reggie Hearn played his first minutes for Northwestern University’s basketball team, he was a walk-on with little experience. By the time his senior season came around, Hearn had become indispensable to his team.
After a few years in the G League, he was signed by the Detroit Pistons in 2017, scoring the first NBA points by a Northwestern graduate since Geno Carlisle in 2004.
Three years later, Hearn is back to the G League, playing for the South Bay Lakers in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, he reflected on his journey since leaving Evanston.
You played college basketball at Northwestern. Is there anything from your time there that stuck with you?
I learned a lot along the way. I played under coach Bill Carmody, who’s famous for running the Princeton offense. Within that offense, I learned how to move without the ball. It helped me learn a lot about ways that I can have an impact on the game at the pro level.
You weren’t drafted out of high school, but you became a key player in college. How did you make that happen?
I don’t personally feel like I did anything special. My first couple of years at Northwestern, I didn’t try to do too much or play selfishly. I tried to determine what I could do to help the team win.
The only reason I got a chance in my junior year is because we had so many injuries. I took advantage of the opportunity. It was unfortunate that guys got injured obviously, but the nature of sports is “the next man up.” Everyone has to be ready to play, so that’s what I did.
Right after graduating, you moved on to the G League and played for the Idaho Stampede. What was that process like for you?
Coming out of college, I thought I could play professionally but I didn’t know how. So, I got an agent and we looked at some places overseas.
Once most of the overseas spots were taken, my agent entered me into the G League draft. There were eight rounds back then. I watched as the first five rounds went and my name didn’t come up. And then finally, the sixth round with the fourth pick, Idaho took me.
I was their last pick out of four, but I came in and tried to do the things I know I’m good at. Because of the defense I play and the hustle I showed in training camp, the coach gave me my first chance to play professionally.
How did you bounce back from the disappointment of being drafted in the last rounds to making the best of this opportunity?
Mentally, I was a little more innocent and naïve back then. I was thankful for whatever opportunity I had. It was instinct for me to come in and play as hard as I can.
Since then, I’ve had some success, I’ve gotten to Detroit. If I’m honest, that makes me feel a little more entitled. I’m not as innocent anymore. I wish now that I was able to maintain that same mindset of being grateful.
You mentioned Detroit; what was your NBA experience like?
I found out that I was getting signed by Detroit when I was at the G League showcase, in 2017. It was a pretty crazy moment, I got the call and headed straight to Detroit.
After a while, I acclimated myself, got my first game and hit my first shot. I did try and play it cool, didn’t celebrate in the middle of the game or anything like that, but it truly was an iconic moment for me.
And if I were to never make it back, I would be able to tell my kids “Hey, Daddy made it to the NBA.” I never really thought I would be able to get to that moment, so it helps me to appreciate it more.
What do you think is the biggest difference between the NBA and the G League?
I think the biggest difference is just the athleticism. There’s a lot of athletic guys in the G League, but when you get to the NBA level, you have seven-footers who can sometimes move with the same type of speed as guards. I think it’s a lot harder to get quality shots in the NBA.
Since then, you’ve gone back to the G League and are now playing for the South Bay Lakers. How has that experience affected you?
It can be hard mentally, thinking “I made it, I’m able to be there, why am I not there anymore?” The nature of the basketball industry is very tough in that you’re constantly tempted to compare yourself to other players.
But I’m trying to get back to the mindset of just appreciating where I am. All I can do is control what’s in front of me and take advantage of whatever opportunity I have.
This season, are you trying to get back to the NBA, or are you happy with the South Bay Lakers?
I think it’s a combination of both. I got married this summer. My wife and I were kind of set to go play overseas, but I talked with my agent, and the Lakers showed some interest in me. So maybe, let’s give it one more shot to get back to the NBA. Anybody coming to the G League is trying to make it to the NBA.
But I’m also not worrying too much about what am I doing, because there’s a lot of things that are out of my control. I’m trying to enjoy playing the game. It’s a really hard balance to strike but I’m doing the best I can.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.