BELTON- Gibson Hearne quite literally grew up on the basketball court.
Growing up, many of Hearne’s winter nights were spent on the sidelines of Cisco High School basketball games, as he assisted his father, Kevin, as the Loboes’ ball boy. In the summers, he regularly attended basketball camps at Tarleton State, where his grandfather, Ronnie Hearne, was the women’s basketball head coach for 11 seasons. So it doesn’t come as a great surprise that Hearne fell in love with the game as well, and became a third-generation college basketball player, when he began his career at UMHB in 2020.
“I was the ball boy for my dad and remember going to all of their practices and shooting on the side,” the UMHB starting guard now recalls. “My grandfather would always set us up at camps at Tarelton. Every little thing adds up and really shaped me into the player that I am today.”
The player Hearne has become is a picture-perfect glimpse into the kind of high-character that UMHB head coach Clif Carroll has built his program in Belton on. Set to be honored at Saturday’s regular season home finale, Hearne has played three seasons for the Crusaders, coming in as part of Carroll’s first recruiting class. He will leave as a player known and remembered for his ability to do whatever it took to help the team get the win. As Carroll says, “he just makes winning plays.”
“Anytime we have guys that want more playing time, the general conversation we have is, ‘Who do you think you can beat out for a spot?’,” Carroll said. “I always think it’s funny, nobody tries to challenge what Gibson does. The team appreciates what he brings. There’s a respect level for the kind of person he is.”
Hearne has certainly established himself as the do-it-all sort of player for the Cru, unselfish in nature. What is intriguing is the fact that he very nearly never became a Crusader. In fact, college basketball was not on his radar until his high school career wrapped up in the spring of 2020.
“I really had no desire to play college basketball until after the high school season ended, right around March, when the pandemic happened,” Hearne said. “I said, ‘I might as well give it a try.’”
His father knew of a few people in the coaching world with connections to Carroll, notably current Moorhead State women’s basketball coach Cayla Petree, who played two years at Cisco College before heading to Texas Tech, where she got to know Carroll. Hence, the connection that initially introduced Hearne to the current UMHB head coach.
“She called me out of the blue one day,” Carroll remembers,”and said, ‘I have a kid looking for somewhere to play. He’s Ronnie Hearne’s grandson.’ I said, ‘I’ll take him.’ It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing. She believed in him, and in his family, and what they stood for.”
But there was one problem. Carroll was the head coach at Sul Ross State, located in the far reaches of West Texas. And Hearne had no intention of going that far to pursue his collegiate basketball dreams.
“I thought, ‘I don’t want to go there. That’s too far,’” Hearne remembers thinking. “My fiancé went to Texas Tech, so I started looking at places around her, and then [Carroll] got the job at UMHB. It was a nice campus, great school, and I was majoring in nursing at the time, which ended up being one of the main reasons I ended up at UMHB.”
Carroll is glad he did. He still thinks back to an early meeting he and his staff had in the opening months of that 2020-21 season, looking up and down the roster, and realizing Hearne was about to see a significant boost in his playing time.
“We’re looking at the roster, trying to figure out how we’re going to put this together, especially before Christmas time,” Carroll recalls. “I remember looking at the other coaches and saying, ‘You guys better get Gibson in the gym, and get him ready. We’re going to need him.’
“They looked at me like I had four heads. I said, ‘I’m just telling y’all, this kid is a winner. We trusted him from day one. His first significant minutes were at East Texas Baptist. He made two plays; a chase-down block, and a wall-up, both of them against an all-conference guy, that just blew our minds that a freshman would be doing this.”
Interestingly enough, Hearne had already figured out his place on the team, before his playing time even saw an increase. The defensive MVP at Cisco High School, he recognized what he could bring to the table. Sure, he could score, and has shown that with three double-digit scoring efforts throughout this current year, but with his intensity on the defensive end, it would be hard for the coaches to keep him off the floor.
“We have a ton of great scorers,” Hearne said. “I knew offensively wasn’t going to be where I would be able to find my spot, but defensively, [I knew I could] play hard, dive for loose balls, and do the little stuff that usually doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but can help a team win. That’s been my focus.”
“He makes huge plays at huge times. He’s a great teammate. He absolutely works his tail off everyday. There’s not a day that he’s in here where he’s not going 100 percent. What most people don’t realize is, he’s played hurt for most of his career. Whether that be stress fractures in his shins, or a torn meniscus in his knee, he fights through that. He’s a stud.”
But as Carroll implied in a recent conversation, to look at Hearne purely from a basketball standpoint, would be looking at only half the person that the head coach admires so much in his program.
“He’s winning at life,” Carroll added.
Hearne averages a 4.0 GPA as an exercise science major with a minor in biology, having changed his major from nursing since arriving at UMHB. Not the typical academic workload of a top-level collegiate athlete. But Hearne has managed to balance everything to a high degree, along with getting engaged last May. His ultimate career goal? Work in pediatrics at a hospital once he finishes PA school.
:”My plan is to apply to PA school but with that comes a lot of shadowing hours,” Hearne said. “With basketball, I haven’t been able to do that yet. So I’ll be shadowing next year, getting that clinical experience to help my resume, then apply to PA school. My career goal would be specializing in pediatrics.”
It has been a long-term goal of Hearne’s. He knew that was something he was interested in well before playing basketball collegiately entered the picture.
“My dad is also a PT along with coaching and my grandma is a nurse. I grew up around the medical field, and it always intriugied me At a young age, I felt like I had a calling towards the medical field.”
But before he begins that next phase of his life, Hearne has one more go-around with the Crusaders, and after making a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the sky’s the limit for this veteran-laden squad.
“You have the thought in the back of your head [that this is your final season], but we’ve really just tried to take the same approach as last year,” Hearne noted. “It’s really been taking it game by game. Hopefully we can win out here, host the ASC Tournament and make a big run. That’d obviously be the best way to go out. We’re just controlling what we can control right now.”
And regardless of the final result of the season, Carroll has one word that sums up 6’0 guard from the west Texas town of 3,899: “Winner”.
“Gibson is the ultimate winner. Whatever we need him to do, he does. He embodies everything that our program stands for. He’s a great student. He’s a strong Christian man and leader. He menas a ton to our program, and a ton to me personally as a coach.
“He’s going to be very successful in whatever he chooses to do, wherever he goes. I’m proud of him. He’ll always be part of our program.”