Point Park guard Heatherington leading team's high-octane offense
Point Park's Robbie Heatherington never has minded sharing the spotlight, but he's doing another kind of sharing this season.
Heatherington, a senior point guard from Serra Catholic, ranks third in NAIA Division II with 7.6 assists per game. He spent his first three collegiate seasons playing mostly shooting guard alongside his older brother T.J., but Robbie is thriving as the pilot of the Pioneers' run-and-gun offense.
“I think going from more of a sidekick to the actual game manager is a transition, but I love having the ball in my hands as much as he did,” said Robbie, who also averages 12.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
“I feel like it's a great opportunity to go back to my natural position at the point. I really enjoy being more of a passer first rather than a scorer.”
Never was that more evident than Nov. 19, when Heatherington set a school-record with 18 assists in a victory over Penn State-Fayette.
“I think there's an energy you feel when you're getting up and down the floor and hitting the open guy or finding a kickout shooter,” he said. “It's a real nice feeling.”
The 6-foot Heatherington's numbers might be even better if he was at full health. He suffered a sprained right ankle in the fourth game of the year, missed two games and has been slowed since returning. Point Park (6-5, 2-1 Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) has two games left before a three-week winter break, during which Heatherington said he hopes the injury heals. Point Park coach Bob Rager said Heatherington's ability to fight through pain might be his most impressive trait.
“He's one of the toughest hombres I've had on my team in a long time,” Rager said. “I think he's the key to our season. We need him in the lineup.”
Heatherington directs what Rager calls a “no-guilt offense,” one that ranks 16th in NAIA D-II with 89.9 points per game. The Pioneers often shoot in the first seven seconds of the shot clock, and Heatherington must make quick decisions. Turnovers are a byproduct of the system — Heatherington averages 5.8.
“If you can play free, I think you can become a better player,” Rager said.
It hasn't been a natural progression for Heatherington. After a sophomore season in which he averaged 14.1 points and 4.8 rebounds, he never got going offensively as a junior, lost his starting job and finished the season averaging 6.2 points and shooting 33.3 percent from the field. Yet he didn't pout.
“Last year was a speed bump,” Heatherington said. “But you can never make it about yourself because there's always a larger goal than individual accolades. I tried to do whatever I could to impact the game when I was out there. If it wasn't scoring, it was on the defensive end or with passing or by hustling.”
The presence of T.J. — a former national scoring leader and NAIA D-II first-team All-American — also served as a calming influence, Robbie said. The brothers, who won a PIAA basketball title together at Serra, talked after games, and T.J.'s advice helped Robbie get through the difficult times. T.J.'s leadership on and off the court appears to have rubbed off on his younger brother.
“I think it's his year to shine,” Rager said of Robbie. “Anytime you're playing with your brother and he's doing a lot of good things, you inadvertently take a back seat. Well, Robbie's not a backseat guy. He's a leader.”