As we get closer to the first regular season basketball game (and that's what this countdown is based on, not the two exhibitions) the health of today's player is in question. John Hart has been an almost forgotten player at times. He redshirted his first year on campus, which is a rare action these days (unless you're Anthony Johnson or Sandi Marcius). then he played very little in his redshirt freshman season until a trip to Champaign.
That trip to Champaign was stunning. We came in having lost three straight after a 14-0 start. We were struggling, so much so that coach Painter shook up the lineup. He brought Hart in off the bench for his first action in almost a month. He wasn't even in the official scorebook, thus prompting a technical foul when he scored. He had scored only 8 points in seven games to that point, all against Buffalo, but he exploded for 14 after taking off his cotton scrubs in a critical 84-78 win over the Fighting Illini. That win would help propel us to the Big Ten title.
He hasn't has as big of an impact since then, but there have been some solid moments. In the infamous Robbie Game up in Minneapolis he scored only three points, but it was a three-pointer that broke Minnesota's 17-0 run since Rob's injury. That triple woke us up and set things up for our own comeback. He later had five big points off the bench at Penn State in the 64-60 win that clinched a share of said Big Ten title.
Last season was also up and down. While people wondered openly who our third scorer would be once Rob went down, Hart filled in for awhile without people giving him proper credit. He notched double figures in four of the first six games with a career high 16 against Alcorn State. After scoring eight against Alabama he missed the next nine games with a stress fracture in his foot. He would only score nine points the rest of the year as the foot injury was nagging and his minutes fell off.
That injury is once again an issue as we enter 2011-12. He had surgery again this offseason and his availability is in doubt to start the year. No one projects him as a starter, but I am very pleased with the role he has played in the first two years of his career. He has not been an every game player, but he is the perfect Matt Painter type because he is ready at any time to make an immediate contribute, like that Illinois game. It is safe to say that we do not win the Big Ten two years ago without John Hart.
Hart's role this year will be dictated by his health, but I have little doubt he will be ready for whatever role we ask of him. He looks lost in a rotation at guard with Ryne Smith, Terone Johnson, Anthony Johnson, Kelsey Barlow, and Lewis Jackson, but he's a worker. There will be minutes for him there.
The real question is will he be there in 2012-13? As a 5th year senior, His spot might be reserved for Gary Harris, especially if Hart graduates and decides to transfer for his final year of eligibility. Regardless, I am grateful for his contributions.