WATSONVILLE — Just a month ago, Reggie Hearn was getting a daily earful from former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, wearing the red, white and blue and helping team U.S.A. to the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup gold medal.
On Tuesday, he was in a small farming community of a little more than 50,000 people talking to high school kids about hard work, dedication and finding their true passion.
Hearn, a star wing for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA G League, took some time from his breakneck training schedule with local trainer Jefferson Codera to give some sage advice to Watsonville High basketball players on the school’s campus.
He was only expected to give a 5-10 minute speech and answer a handful of questions but Hearn instead stuck around for close to an hour with more than 30 hoop hopefuls.
“That was the best part about it,” said Watsonville Athletic Director and interim basketball coach Mark Northcutt. “He answered just about everything the kids asked him. He was really impressive.”
To say the questions were wide-ranging, would be an understatement. The student-athletes asked him what his favorite sneaker was, what it took to make it from the high school level to an NCAA Division I program and even his opinion on LaVar Ball’s ongoing spectacle involving his three sons.
“That one was a little weird,” Northcutt admitted with a laugh.
But most were well thought out.
Gio Gonzalez, a senior on the boy’s varsity team, asked Hearn about his experience of being on a championship team and what makes a team band together.
“He said that any goal is achievable if the team believes it is and works towards it together,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re determined and you strive for it, you can accomplish it.”
Which is exactly what happened last month when Hearn was playing for team U.S.A. in South America. The Northwestern alumnus was part of a ragtag group of G League players led by coach Van Gundy, now ESPN’s top NBA primetime game analyst, which had to band together in a matter of days in order to keep the stars and stripes atop the basketball landscape.
Team U.S.A. not only achieved that goal but did so by erasing a 20-point, second-half deficit against a stacked Argentina team in Argentina.
For Hearn, the victory was sweet and the experience of representing his country was even sweeter.
“I always dreamt about the NBA but team U.S.A. was always a little bit higher in my mind because that’s reserved for the Michaels, the Kobes, the Charles Barkleys, the John Stocktons, you know, the greats,” said Hearn, who averaged 10 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range in the AmeriCup. “I never thought I’d get to don the colors but I got the call and I got to play under Jeff Van Gundy. It’s an experience you really can’t put into words, especially the way that we won it.”
In his speech to the kids, Hearn also encouraged them to explore different things and find their real love in life.
“He really challenged them to think about what their passion was and then go make it a reality,” Northcutt said.
And those aren’t just bright and colorful words of wisdom, it’s a belief that Hearn has lived by over the years.
Hearn went undrafted after a four-year career at Northwestern and landed with the Idaho Stampede in the G League. After an OK rookie season with Idaho, Hearn bounced around the league before landing with the Bighorns and developing into a solid player in 2015.
It’s no coincidence, Hearn said, that that was also the year he started to train with Codera during the summer.
In Santa Cruz for the G League Showcase at Kaiser Permanente Arena, Hearn happened to be at Foot Locker in Capitola at the same time as Codera. Hearn cracked a joke about Codera’s oddball basketball outfit, which featured volleyball knee pads, and offered him some tickets to a game at the Showcase. Codera met Hearn after a game and offered him a spot to practice: the Watsonville High gym.
Hearn showed a day later to shoot around but was a little confused and skeptical when Codera offered to train him. But after one session with Codera, who also trains pro basketball player and Watsonville native Adrian Zamora, Hearn knew he was the real deal.
“I said man, ‘this is good stuff,’ We’ve been in touch ever since,” said Hearn, who praised Codera’s level of detail and called him “the man with a million drills.” “I try to get out here as much as I can to work with Jeff.”
Hearn’s strong play at the AmeriCup earned him training camp spot with the Sacramento Kings and assured him of a greater role in the Bighorns’ offense for the upcoming G League season.
The kids at Watsonville were happy to have him for just a few minutes.
“That’s rare that we have someone like that, a figure like that, come in and give advice — real advice,” Gonzalez said. “Here’s a guy that just won a gold medal for team U.S.A. and that’s a pro basketball player coming in and spending time with a bunch of us. It was really cool. You could see the guys were pumped about it.”