Showing his Hart
Senior leading the way for Colorado Mesa since January
When Jim Heaps speaks of past Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball teams, he never refers to the year.
“I never say the 2003 or 2008 (team). It’s always Jeff Boese’s year, or Leif Spencer’s year or Dutch Johnson’s year, or whoever your senior leaders are at that time,” the Mavericks’ coach said. “That’s the team you’re going to be remembered for, and it’s really important you take responsibility.”
When Heaps speaks of this season’s team, he’ll drop Jeff Hart’s name.
Hart, a 6-foot-4 wing, is a fifth-year senior, one whose role changed year by year. After redshirting his first year out of Brophy Collegiate Prep in Goodyear, Ariz., his role at first was as a defensive stopper.
Points were few and far between — 14 his redshirt freshman year, playing in 11 games. His sophomore season, he came off the bench in all 28 games, scoring 120 points.
“It’s pretty much been an exponential leap for me every year,” said Hart, who is majoring in finance, economics and marketing and will graduate in May. He made the Academic All-District first team this season, which makes him eligible for Academic All-America honors with a 3.85 grade-point average.
Last season, he moved into the starting lineup and was more of an offensive threat, slashing to the basket and posting up off back-side screens. His scoring nearly doubled, with 232 points, an average of eight per game, with 3.7 rebounds per night.
“That’s true of a lot of players that play the wing. It may start as a defensive guy, and their role expands as they get better,” Heaps said. “Jeff’s just been having a great year, and I couldn’t ask for anything more from him.”
After the players came back from Christmas, though, Heaps did ask more from Hart, and Hart demanded more from himself.
“That weekend against Fort Lewis and Adams (the final two games before the Christmas break) we didn’t have a good weekend as a team, and I had a terrible weekend individually,” said Hart, who scored five points in a 71-61 loss to Fort Lewis and eight in a 84-79 loss to Adams State and didn’t have a rebound in either game. “I felt like I let my teammates down. I knew I never wanted to feel that way again.
“Heaps sat me down and told me I can’t afford to have any more bad games, can’t afford to have any more bad practices. This is it for me. I try not to think about it too much, but I try to own it. I’m a senior, and I try to play like a senior and own that responsibility.”
Heaps didn’t have to say too much in that meeting, though.
“Before the words can come out of my mouth, he said he was really disappointed in how he played,” Heaps said. “I told him, ‘Jeff, you’re a senior. You can’t take days off, you can’t take weekends off. You’ve gotta show up ready to play and produce every time out.’
“I don’t think since then he’s had a bad game. He’s had some better than others, but he’s played with really high consistency and energy at both ends, rebounding and shooting.”
In the nine games since the calendar turned to 2013, Hart has averaged 17.4 points a game, scoring 20 or more four times, and has reached double figures every night.
He added a more consistent outside jump shot to his game this season and is shooting 52.6 percent from the field, 45.8 percent from the 3-point line, averaging 14.4 points a game, second on the team.
Colorado Mesa (14-5, 11-4 RMAC) has its next-to-last home weekend of the regular season starting today against Black Hills State (5-14, 4-11). Saturday, Chadron State (2-17, 2-13) comes to town. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. at Brownson Arena.
Last Friday at Colorado School of Mines, Hart demanded the ball in overtime, scoring 12 points in the extra five minutes of the Mavs’ 77-74 victory. He finished with 22 points, tying his season high.
“It hits a point where you have to say it’s time to step up,” Hart said. “You always want to rely on team basketball, but if you’re feeling good, every now and then you’ve got to step up and say, ‘Give me the ball.’ I was feeling good.”