Point Park's Heatherington knows stellar career coming to an end
Over the course of the past four years playing for the Point Park men's basketball team, T.J. Heatherington has had plenty of points to count.
Be it points he personally scored (a NAIA Division II national-best 24.5 per game last season) or those he's been part of as the primary ballhandler on the Pioneers' team (one that is second in the country in scoring at 94 points per game), it seems as if there are too many points to count.
Now, it's not points Heatherington counts. It's games remaining in his college career.
“I've been counting down the games in my head — 4, 3, 2,” said Heatherington, a McKeesport native and Serra Catholic alumnus. “It's definitely been hitting me it's my last year.
“Hopefully, I'll have a few more because we make a nice run in the playoffs.”
No matter how Point Park's postseason run goes — the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament begins Thursday — Heatherington has left his mark on Point Park.
Heatherington concluded his final regular season at the school as the program's fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,574 points. He's also second in career assists with 478.
“Honestly, it's been awesome,” Heatherington said of his time playing under coach Bob Rager at Point Park. “In high school, we were a pretty up-tempo team, and the past four years here, we've been run-and-gun. Whether you're pushing it to get your shot or jelling as an offense to find the open spot for a teammate, there's always people open.”
The 5-foot-10 Heatherington has been instrumental on both sides of that equation for the Pioneers, who completed their regular season 14-10 overall and 8-7 in the KIAC.
He's embraced more of his ball-distributing roots this season.
“He's adjusted well to being a set-up guy because we have scorers with him now,” Rager said. “We like to throw it up — we score 94 points per game, and in order to score 94 points per game, you have to have a scoring point guard. In T.J., you have both. Sometimes, you sacrifice accolades to be a team guy. This year, he's more a team player.”
Heatherington is still scoring; he's averaging a team-high 17.7 points. He still has some big-scoring games — he had 42 in a win over Barea, Ky., on Feb. 9, for example.
But he's also just as likely to help a teammate score. In all but two games Point Park played this season, Heatherington was at least tied for the team lead in assists.
“I had a little different role this year,” Heatherington said. “It's been great getting everyone involved more. We definitely have a couple more scorers than we had last year, and that definitely took a little pressure off me. It's a little different role — but it's definitely made me a better player.”
That's saying something, considering Heatherington was an NAIA Division II All-American last season.
He's been all-conference each season he has played collegiately and was a two-time all-state player at Serra, where he was twice named the Male Athlete of the Year by the McKeesport Daily News.
Heading into the final week of his regular-season career at Point Park, Heatherington's career averages were 18.4 points and 5.6 assists, with a 81.3 free-throw shooting percentage.
Heatherington spent last summer playing in the Green Tree Summer Pro-Am league along with Pitt players Lamar Patterson, Trey Zeigler, James Robinson and Steven Adams.
“A great experience,” Heatherington called it.
His future college-playing experiences are limited, and he knows it. Heatherington insisted he will make the most of whatever amount of games he has left.
“Everyone wants to be remembered as a winner,” Heatherington said. “So I definitely want to go out with a decent run.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.