Abington’s Heath authors another impressive game at Temple

PHILADELPHIA >> Robbie Heath wasn’t happy with his performance so far in the District 1 playoffs, so he watched some film.

The Abington senior didn’t watch himself though. Instead, Heath queued up some highlights of one of the best shooting guards in NBA history, figured out what he was doing wrong and was ready to get back to work.

“It seems funny, but I was watching Dwyane Wade highlights before this game and he gets to his spots in the midrange and gets easy shots off and rises over smaller defenders,” Heath said. “I thought I could do that against Lower Merion because their defenders were smaller than me. My midrange game was working for me and I’m glad we came out with a ‘W’.”

It also didn’t hurt his next game would be in an arena he’s excelled in throughout his high school career.

Heath has made a history of big games at the Liacouras Center on Temple’s campus and added another to his ledger on Tuesday. The Australian import scored a game-high 24 points in the No. 2 Ghosts’ 72-61 win over No. 3 Lower Merion in the District I semifinals.

It was Heath’s fifth game at Temple and he earned himself a sixth when he and the rest of the Ghosts battle No. 1 Plymouth Whitemarsh in the District I 6A final at 6 p.m. Saturday. Against the Aces, Heath scored the game’s first four points and added six assists and three steals to his line.

After shooting 6-of-20 in playoff wins over Neshaminy and Norristown, plus a dismal 2-of-18 showing against CB West in the SOL tournament, Heath realized he was getting the right shots, but not finishing them. Tuesday, he made sure to put a little extra arc on his array of runners, floaters and short shots and ended up shooting 9-of-14 against the Aces.

“It’s my senior year and I knew coming in I had to have a big game for us to win,” Heath said. “We were playing Lower Merion, it’s Kobe Bryant’s school, there’s a lot of history there and to go back to the district championship, it’s great.”

This will be the third time in Heath’s four years the Ghosts play for a District title. Abington is also undefeated in games at the Liacouras Center with Heath on the roster. His father, Robert “Tiger” Heath starred at Abington, so Robbie wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

It’s safe to say he’s already authored a career that can more than stand on its own. Tuesday, Heath moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring list, passing Kevin Olesiak, and now stands at 1536 points. The dream of playing college basketball in the United States is what prompted Heath to leave his home, his lifelong friends, his sisters and his mom behind in Australia.

Leaving all that he’d ever known behind was a massive sacrifice and Heath still feels the burden every day, calling his mom and sisters almost daily. He’s also returned home every summer, opting not to play AAU basketball , just another sacrifice he’s made to chase a dream.

Abington coach Charles Grasty also thinks it’s part of what’s made Heath so successful and why he raises his play on big stages like Temple.

“He’s got a chip on his shoulder, he’s getting under-recruited for reasons we think in-house include not playing AAU and going back home,” Grasty said. “He comes out and plays hard. He wants people to know how good he is. I thought he played within the flow of the game.”

The challenge of playing with a chip on the shoulder is keeping that chip from turning into a brick and then into a boulder. Heath knows this too, especially as an outwardly emotional player. On Tuesday, he picked up a technical foul for protesting what he felt was a non-call.

Realizing his mistake, Heath contained his emotions and on his next possession, attacked the basket again and this time, drew the whistle to get the and-1. His dunk off a long pass from Eric Dixon gave Abington a 64-53 lead in the final quarter.

“I think I get overlooked so for me, the bigger the stage, the bigger I have to play,” Heath said. “I want to make all the people notice me and I think I’ve done a great job of that.”

In the team’s layup lines prior to tip, Heath wore a blue T-shirt with “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” printed on the front. His Twitter name is ForeignRobbie and around the school, most everyone calls him “Aussie Robbie.”

As fiery and determined as he can be on the floor, Heath is as chill off of it. He is uniquely himself and he’s beloved in the school and community for it.

“I’m an Aussie for life,” Heath said.

Heath’s game has grown too. Mostly a spot-up shooter as a freshman, he was the lead man as a junior and after a rough start this year, has found a niche playing complement to junior big man Eric Dixon. He calls his teammates “brothers” and noted big plays by the team’s bench guys, wanting them to get attention as well.

The senior is eyeing the school’s all-time record of 1,681 points, held by 1975 graduate Richard Wright but also has more immediate, pressing goals like winning his third district title and finally experiencing a state playoff win, where he is 0-2. As far as college, Heath has been in contact with UC Santa Barbera and Hartford but is confident things will fall into place for him when they’re meant to.

“I don’t think anyone else would sacrifice like I have the last five years I’ve been here,” Heath said. “Leaving my family to come play overseas, I think of them everyday. Playing with that chip on my shoulder, it motivates me. It’s just basketball, you can’t overthink anything and my brothers here, they motivate me.”

Heath has a history of big performances in big games. He’ll have a chance to author another this weekend.

“It feels like a college game, I’m playing a college court and especially with it being Temple, it’s got so much history,” Heath said. “It’s a privledge, especially coming from Australia. I’ve never experienced anything like it until I came to this country, I grew up used to playing in little gyms. It’s like a movie playing in here.”

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