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Worth the wait for Heslip

03.06.10 at 6:17 pm ET
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Brady Heslip is limited to warming up with the Eagles this winter, but he hopes to make a contribution next season. (Boston College)

Redshirt freshman Brady Heslip is limited to warming up with the Eagles this winter, but the sharpshooting point guard hopes to make a contribution next season. (Boston College)

You may see him before a BC basketball game shooting, dribbling and having a good time with his teammates in pregame warm ups. But then, poof … he disappears to the bench, never to see a minute of playing time.

That’s just the way it has to be for Brady Heslip. Brought in as an early recruit in December, Heslip is being redshirted, which by NCAA rules does not allow the 6-foot-1 combo guard — who averaged 28.0 points per game his senior year of high school — to participate in games.

It has been an anxious time for the native of Burlington, Ontario, but also a humbling one for a player who is used to being the big fish in a small pond.

“It’s very difficult to go from playing a lot of minutes and having the ball in my hands in high school to sitting on the bench and watching,” the 19-year-old said. “At the same time it’s really good for me to come into this level. I know I have a lot of work cut out for me, so it’s a good basis for me to learn.”

It’s been months since Heslip has played in an official game, but the fact that the kid from Canada is on a Division 1 basketball team is a “dream come true.”

THE MAKING OF A BASKETBALL JUNKIE

Heslip was immediately turned on to the game of basketball at a young age. It never hurts having two lifelong basketball junkies in the family. His father, Tom, was an All-Canadian player at Guelph University and his uncle, Jay Triano, is now the coach of the Toronto Raptors after starring on the Canadian national team for 11 years.

“It definitely has been an advantage having them because they know so much about basketball that I want to learn,” said Heslip, who said both men were harsh critics as well as role models for him. “I’m still picking their brains every day about what I can do get better.”

In the beginning of his high school career, Heslip may have relied on natural ability a little too much, and his work ethic was something he needed to learn. A self-proclaimed “chunky kid” Heslip changed his diet and spent hours upon hours in the gym trying to hone his game.

The results paid immediate dividends, as he helped Nelson High School claim the Halton championship trophy in the 2006-07 season. Nelson would not claim another title in Heslip’s tenure, but his coach knew that his young guard really matured over his time with the program.

“He was arguably the best shooter to come out of this school,” said Bob Stacey, who has coached at Nelson for 27 years. “I’ve never had a kid as passionate about playing. Kids will practice for two hours and say they are done. He’d do that and then practice for another two.”

With all the success — he registered a career-high 54-point game in 2009 — Heslip was left off the radar of many Division 1 schools in the United States. Toledo and UNC-Greensboro showed the most interest in the Canadian star, but Heslip’s dreams of playing for a top-flight Division 1 program were dwindling as his high school career came to a close.

A DREAM BECOMES REALIZED

With the limited offers from top programs in the States, Heslip decided to stay close to home and told the coaches at Guelph — in Canada there are no scholarships — that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Gryphon.

His father and his AAU coach, Ro Russell, knew that the talented guard was close to getting more exposure if he played one more summer under Russell in the Grassroots Canada program, a program that has developed many top recruits, including Dwight Powell (Stanford).

Heslip agreed, and the rest is history.

In the It Takes 5IVE tournament in Cincinnati last summer, Russell was missing his two top point guards because of prior commitments, so he showcased Heslip as the only true point man on the team. At the event, which is a recruiting hotbed for some of the biggest programs in the country, Heslip shined by leading the Grassroots team deep in the tournament.

“He was able to play 30 minutes a game and he had the confidence and the opportunity to handle the ball for major time,” said Russell, who has been with Grassroots Canada for 20 years. “He got very confident, got into a groove and outplayed every point guard that we played against.”

Then the phones were off the hook for Heslip. UCLA, Gonzaga, Utah State, Cincinnati, Georgetown, UConn and BC were trying to land the point guard who had a solid 93 ranking from ESPN.com.

To go from a virtual unknown to someone that major schools had interest in, Heslip was oh-so-close to fulfilling his dream.

WELCOME TO THE HEIGHTS

Heslip’s first step was telling the coaches at Guelph that he was no longer going to be playing there, a decision he called very difficult but necessary.

“It was definitely difficult. I had a great relationship with the coach there,” Heslip said. “He helped me a lot, worked me out and everything else, but I think it was just better that I made my own path.”

He and his father visited a few of the interested Division 1 programs and took an unofficial visit to UCLA. But when they flew across country to Boston, Heslip and his father were sold. Heslip finished off his whirlwind summer by signing with BC in August, and spent the fall semester at New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire to get ready for the Heights.

A FUTURE ON THE COURT

Heslip — who models his game after Steve Nash and Mike Bibby — is known as a shooter first, but he has worked on his game to become an all-around point guard, something that pleased Eagles coach Al Skinner.

“He’s not just a stand-still shooter,” Skinner said. “He can shoot off the dribble a little bit, which I think at times you get guys who can only do a catch-and-shoot-type situation. Once people know that, then they are not going to allow you to do that.

“When you can put the ball down on the floor that really makes him effective, and I really think he can do that.”

Skinner also is looking for Heslip to take over senior Tyler Roche’s role as the knockdown shooter when things break down.

“If there is a scramble and you get an offensive rebound you can kick it out to him and he’s got a wide open 3, you would think it’s going to go in every time,” Skinner said of his new recruit. “It’s a dynamic to our club that is a tremendous threat to have.”

Like any other freshman, Heslip is receiving the bumps and bruises that come with learning how to play ACC basketball on the practice floor. On a daily basis, he will go up against Reggie Jackson and Biko Paris to work on his defense, a weakness he admits might be holding him back a little bit.

Jackson, the sophomore standout for the Eagles, knows what it’s like to take licks in practice from veteran players, and he sees something in Heslip that will help build a dynamic backcourt for the next couple of years at Conte Forum.

“I know being a freshman it’s kind of hard to speak up, but when he does speak up he says the right things,” Jackson said. “I feel throughout his career he can be a great leader for us and definitely be a great deep-ball threat, which would help me and others get into the lane and attack and keep people honest. … I feel he’s going to be a big factor in what we do next year.”

For now, the young man will have to learn behind the scenes with coaches and fellow players, the only people able to see his progress. What happens between now and next season will be up to Heslip. He already has put on seven pounds since arriving at BC in December and is a frequent visitor to the weight room.

The wait may be difficult now, but Heslip beamed when he thought of the idea of playing in front of the home fans in Boston, a place he visited with his family as a young child.

“I can’t wait,” he said with a big smile. “I cannot wait for that day to come. It’s going to be a great day when I can do that.”

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