Buffalo News

Coming off Navy’s bench, Heary comes on strong

Last March after leading Fredonia to victory in a sectional qualifier at Alumni Arena, Mike Heary came out with this charming, candid assessment of his brilliant performance, “I always seem to surprise myself.”

Ten months later, Heary is doing bit again. Midway through his freshman season at the U. S. Naval Academy, the 6-foot-5 guard has balanced class work, Division I athletics and the strict disciplinary regimen of a first-year midshipman to become a valued contributor on the Navy’s basketball team.

“Yeah, I’m very surprised,” Heary said by phone Thursday afternoon. “I mean, this is a pretty veteran team that I joined. There were a lot of good returning players and I was pretty much trying to find my place on the team.”

Heary, last year’s Buffalo News Player of the Year, has quickly found his place on a Navy team that won the Patriot League tournament last year and a trip to the NCAAs.

Through 15 games, he is averaging 12.7 points in 18.7 minutes a game an exceptional scoring rate for his time on the floor. Head coach Don DeVoe, in his third year at Annapolis after a long career at Tennessee, has started him twice, but prefers to use him as an instant offensive threat off the bench.

“He’s like wildfire off the bench,” said DeVoe, whose team is 8-7. “He’s ready to get the ball and shoot it the second he gets out there. The fans here are really excited about him.”

Heary is shooting 42.4 percent (56 of 132)m from the field. He’s 27-77 from three-point range, so more than half of his shots come from downtown, and he’s clearly not shy about putting them up. He’s also eighth in the country in free-throw shooting at 91.2 percent (52 for 57).

“I explained to Coach DeVoe that I’ve never shot them this well,” Heary said. “I played a lot of minutes in high school and got tired a lot. Here, I’m fresh off the bench and when I get to the line, I’m really confidant.”

His confidence picked up dramatically in an eight-game stretch between December 19 and January 14, when he scored in double figures every game and averaged 18.5 points. Heary was Patriot League rookie of the week for three straight weeks during that time. That’s quite an achievement when you consider that Adonal Foyle – the national icon at Colgate – is also a freshman in the conference.

While Foyle attracts a swarm of national attention, Heary goes virtually unnoticed outside of Western New York or Annapolis.

“Everyone focuses on Adonal in the league,” he said. “I like it that way, to tell you the truth. I’ve always felt like I’m kind of a secret to a lot of people. I always felt there weren’t many people outside New York who really knew I could play.”

Heary has enough trouble adjusting to the regimen of a service academy to worry about publicity. He has to wake up at 5:30 a. m. every day and the earliest he’s gotten to bed is 10:30 p. m. So the hours are long, and the mental pressures are considerable.

Every day, he said, the freshmen are required to read the newspaper and memorize three articles – two in the main news section and one in sports. Then upperclassmen quiz them on the contents of the news accounts.

“Right now, I’m an expert on the Japan earthquake,” Heary said.

As for the classroom, he’s taking 18 credit hours. Last semester he took 16. At some point in college, once life at the Academy goes more routine for him, he figures he’ll take 20 hours.

Heary has one significant advantage over the other first-year middies. His mother moved to Annapolis last summer to be close by, and his older sister manages a store in Washington, D. C. So two family members show up for all his home games.

“It was great, especially in the fall, to go over tom my mother’s and relax,” he said. “It’s nice to have people around for support. But with what happened in our family, it’s kind of a mixed emotions type of thing.”

His father, Tom, the principal at Fredonia High, died of leukemia two years ago. The joy of having his mother and sister around is tempered by the sadness of knowing his father didn’t live to see him star as a college player.

“He’s really an all-American boy,” DeVoe said, a good-looking kid who hustles all over the court. I would like to have a son who plays like that.”

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