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Abington’s Heath shaped by journey

Robbie Heath poses next to the newly unveiled banner bearing his name at Abington High School's Maroon Madness night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

ABINGTON >> Preparing for his final season at Abington, Robbie Heath has a lot of things left to do.

The senior guard’s checklist is pretty lengthy but on Friday night, he got to celebrate a couple of accomplishments from last season. First was a team thing, the District I 6A title and the second district title Heath has captured as a starter at Abington with the other coming as a freshman.

For the second, he saw his name added to the school’s 1,000-point scorer list and in doing so, made a little history.

Heath’s father, Robert “Tiger” Heath, a 1982 Abington graduate, also scored 1,000 points playing for the Galloping Ghosts. Robbie and Robert became the first father-son duo in Abington history to score at least 1,000 points.

“When I came here in 2009 for two weeks to visit, we came into this gym, he pointed at the banner and said ‘I did work in here too,’” Robbie said prior to Friday’s Maroon Madness season tip-off event. “I’ve already surpassed him in scoring, I’ve got 1,065 and he’s got 1,064, so we have some jokes about that. It’s been really cool he’s always there for me, but so are my mom and two sisters on the phone every game.”

The reason Heath’s mom and sisters usually call or FaceTime him after every game is because they’re back in Australia, where Robbie also hails from. Wanting the same kind of high school basketball experience his father had, the younger Heath made a big sacrifice as a 14-year old and decided to come to the United States to play.

Tiger, as he’s known to everyone in Abington, brought his son back to his old stomping grounds and Robbie jumped right in to the team’s starting lineup. He still spends his summers back home and carries that distinctive Australian accent with him. As a freshman, Heath said too many people jokingly asked him if he had a pet kangaroo back home, but the nickname of “Aussie Robbie” did stick.

Abington might be the only place in all of suburban Philadelphia where Sixers rookie Ben Simmons is the second-most popular Australian import around.

“I’m always going to rep Australia first, but Abington’s such a close second, I take a lot of pride in saying I play for Abington,” Heath said. “You have to work hard and be successful if you hope to play here.”

Heath, who plays with a certain brashness on the court that’s helped him thrive under coach Charles Grasty, isn’t shy about his expectations for this season. He wants to be the school’s all-time leading scorer and knows how many points he needs to get there. He also followed that statement up by saying he has to shoot better from the floor to have a chance at it, showing the work ethic that helped him remain a fixture in the lineup.

While Heath made a big sacrifice uprooting himself from his homeland to travel to the other side of the world, he also made one by going back down under in the summer. He didn’t get the same exposure on the AAU circuit so many other players have and as a result, he isn’t a heavily recruited college prospect.

Abington senior Robbie Heath (right) stands with his father, Robert “Tiger” Heath between the 1,000-point scorer banners that bear their names in the Ghosts’ gym on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (Andrew Robinson/Digital First Media)

Still, Heath wants to play college basketball and his combo-guard skillset is certainly good enough to do it. Grasty has gone to bat for the guard, especially after his strong postseason run last year and even with his relative lack of exposure, Heath has been in contact with some schools.

“I’ve talked to coaches from UC Santa Barbera in Cali(fornia), that’s a school I’d really like to go to,” Heath said. “Hopefully, they offer me this year and I can end up there. I’d hoped some local schools would be interested but right now, UC Santa Barbera is really who I’m looking at.”

Heath already has a couple games circled on the season calendar. Chief among them is the Ghost’s annual showdown with backyard nemesis Cheltenham. The Panthers have won the last two meetings and Heath is just 1-2 against Cheltenham, so he said he’d be upset if he couldn’t pick up another win in the neighborhood rivalry.

He also wants to lead Abington back to the state tournament, which the Ghosts have reached in two of the last three seasons. Heath is also 0-2 in the first round of states, something that bothers him.

“It’s been my goal, to get past that first round,” Heath said. “When I’m up early running hills, getting shots up, I’m always thinking about winning the state championship.”

Robbie Heath points to his name and his father, Robert “Tiger” Heath’s name on Abington’s 1,000-point scorer banners on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 (Andrew Robinson/Digital First Media)

Heath has grown close with juniors Eric Dixon and Lucas Monroe and they’re the three returning starters from last season. Dixon, a highly touted prospect, had a strong summer and Heath said it’s helped the big man gain confidence but also pushed Heath to work harder to keep up.

Both Dixon and Monroe are reserved in nature, a little contrast to Heath’s outgoing personality, but they’ve just meshed well over the past three-plus years.

“Even when I was in ninth grade and E and Lucas were in eighth grade, we were hanging out together, practicing together,” Heath said. “So I feel like as long as I’ve been here, I’ve become close with everyone on the team.”

Heath’s mom and sisters have made the trip to see him play a couple times and he said no one is a harder critic of his than his mom, who watches game tape and breaks down his play. It’s a support network he’s happy to have even as he’s made the best of the two most important places in his life.

“I always think about the sacrifices I’ve made and what I’ve done to get here,” Heath said. “No one really would sacrifice their friends and family to move to another country, let alone the one furthest away in the United States to come over here and do what I’ve done. I take a lot of pride in that and I work hard every day to make sure I become successful not only in this moment, but for the future.”

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