Jordan Hill, Josh Hearlihy and Richaud Gittens are starting for Seattle University while working on graduate degrees. They are taking full advantage of the graduate-transfer rule that allowed them to play for Seattle U without sitting out a year.

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Jim Hayford wanted to make a strong showing in his first year as men’s basketball coach at Seattle University, but he would need some help.

And he knew where to find it. He would search the graduate-transfer market.

In Hayford’s final two seasons at Eastern Washington, he hit the jackpot with graduate transfers: Austin McBroom was the Big Sky Conference’s leading scorer in 2015-16, and Jacob Wiley was the Big Sky MVP last season.

And, of course, Hayford doesn’t have to look far to find perhaps the greatest graduate transfer of all: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who took Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in 2012 after leaving North Carolina State.

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And now it’s Jordan Hill, Josh Hearlihy and Richaud Gittens who are taking advantage of the rule that allows players who have earned a degree at one school to transfer to another school and be eligible to play immediately, unlike other transfers who must sit out a year.

Hill, Hearlihy and Gittens are starting for Seattle University while working on graduate degrees. Only Iowa State can match Seattle U’s three graduate transfers, and only one of those Cyclones is a starter.

For the Redhawks’ graduate transfers, it was an opportunity to finally be big cogs, and they are tasked with helping Hayford rebuild Seattle U by delivering a good season to build from.

They are proving up to the challenge, helping Seattle University to a 13-7 start.

“I’d hate to think where I’d be without them, that’s for sure,” Hayford said.

A tough break

After scoring eight points in 29 minutes as a junior in Weber State’s NCAA tournament loss to Xavier in 2016, Richaud Gittens was ready to help lead the Wildcats back to the Big Dance for the third time in four years as a senior.

But then the 6-foot-4 guard suffered a bad break. Actually, two of them.

“I broke my foot the first day of school, the first day of senior year,” he said. “I was playing a pickup game, and I felt a crack.”

Gittens somehow made it back for Weber State’s opener and scored 19 points. But six games into the season, “I broke it again, same place, same foot.”

Because of the injuries, Gittens was granted a medical redshirt year. Weber State already had its scholarship allotment for this season spoken for, and Gittens decided to move on.

“I could have stayed if I wanted to, but I got a chance to go to two NCAA tournaments and win two Big Sky championships,” he said. “I felt like my legacy and what me and my teammates had created was great, and I wanted the guys who were under us who had worked so hard to get to that point — I wanted them to get that experience and to do it on their own. That was a big part of me leaving, and another reason was that I had graduated, and I felt like I needed to be in a new place.”

When Gittens, who got his bachelor’s degree in professional sales and fundamental selling technique, was looking for a place to play one final season, he chose to play for Hayford. Gittens had played against Hayford’s Eastern Washington teams six times, including a 22-point game as a sophomore, the second-highest scoring output of his career.

“I liked the system he used, and a lot of his players had really thrived in his offense, and I felt like I could also thrive in that offense,” said Gittens, who is working on a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and organization. “I trusted him, and I wanted to play for him.”

Gittens, who had not been to Seattle before taking his official visit with his mother, is averaging a career-high 10.9 points and 5.1 rebounds, and he is a strong defender.

“I’ve always wanted to be a bigger part of an offense and have a bigger role and showcase what I can do,” Gittens said. “I just really thank Coach Hayford and the other coaches for giving me this opportunity.”

Gittens wants to play professionally and then coach, but all his focus now is on Seattle U. He said the team is capable of earning an NCAA tournament berth, and he’s happy he is part of that pursuit.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I love where I am at.”

Finally, a chance

That Josh Hearlihy is starring at Seattle University this season, having recently earned WAC Player of the Week honors, is a testament to his dedication and perseverance.

He thought his college life was set when he signed a letter of intent with Utah in the fall of his senior year of high school. But Hearlihy missed most of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles (where his mother coaches the girls team) with patella tendinosis — “many microtears in the patella tendon where it connects to my kneecap because I grew 9½ inches in three years.”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak then made the rare and controversial move of asking a player to release himself from the letter of intent.

“The coach was afraid I wasn’t going to be healthy enough to play for him right away,” said Hearlihy, a 6-8 guard/forward who is averaging 12.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists for Seattle. “(Krystkowiak) wanted a horse that could run right away. I had already signed a binding contract, but once he said that, I didn’t want to go there anymore, to a place that didn’t believe in me or want me.”

By then, other schools had finished recruiting, and Hearlihy’s crazy journey began. He went to a prep school in Massachusetts, where the recruiting process began anew. He signed with Tulane, playing sparingly for two seasons, then transferred to Vermont, where playing time also was scarce.

When Hearlihy was told that he was not welcome on Vermont’s team this season (“They said I didn’t fit in,” he said.), it easily could have been the end of his college career.

But he completed eight classes in summer quarter to earn his psychology degree (“I was doing 12 hours of school work each day”), making him eligible to transfer to Seattle U, having heard from his high-school coach that Hayford was looking for players.

Hearlihy’s arrival gave Hayford a versatile player who can drive, shoot, pass and rebound. And it gave Hearlihy a chance to display the talent he never lost faith in.

“It means the world to me,” said Hearlihy, who is studying transformational leadership. “I am so blessed and so appreciative of this opportunity of getting to play my last year and start a masters program. Isn’t there some cliché, where you tell God your plans, and he laughs? That pretty much fits me. I would not have thought I would be somewhere other than Utah, let alone going from Tulane to Vermont to Seattle. But I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I’ve gone through some difficult times that I didn’t enjoy, but they made me stronger as a person.”

Hearlihy wants to play professionally, but like his graduate-transfer teammates, he wants to focus on a season that is finally going to plan.

“I think we’re each dynamic in our own way,” Hearlihy said of himself, Gittens and Hill. “We’re like puzzle pieces. We are all our own shape, but we fit together. The players on this team aren’t just great players, they’re great people. A lot of people say that, but after all that I’ve been through, I really mean it.”

He can score, too

Jordan Hill has seen the biggest stages of college basketball. Twice he went to the Final Four with Wisconsin.

When Hill was a redshirt sophomore, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan quit during midseason, and Hill’s minutes drastically increased to about 20 per game under new coach Greg Gard.

Hill was known for his defense and for hitting the occasional three-pointer, and he averaged 3.0 points. But last season, his minutes dropped significantly, to 9.9 a game and his scoring average fell to 1.5 a game.

How frustrating was that?

“Extremely,” he said.

So after getting his bachelor’s degree in retailing and consumer behavior, Hill made the tough decision “to leave the place you’ve called home for four years, and the people that I grew really close with.”

“I wanted to be in a role where I knew I could go out and try and score 26 a night or something like that, and put my handprints on a program,” Hill said.

That he has done at Seattle U, a school Hill knew nothing about before getting a call from Hayford. Playing point guard, the 6-4 Hill is second on the team in scoring (13.8 points per game), first in assists (3.8) and is shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range. He scored a career-high 26 in last week’s conference opener against Grand Canyon.

Hill said he always knew he could score. He just needed the chance.

“I have a lot to prove, and more so to myself because y’all were happy that I scored 26 (against Grand Canyon), but I was thinking I could have had 40.”

With the Redhawks, he has not been afraid to take the big shot, and has shown an ability to come through in important situations.

“You just got to step into it,” he said. “ If you fail, you fail, but you can’t go into it scared and doubting yourself, because as soon as that happens there’s no chance of you achieving whatever it is you set out to do. My confidence isn’t false. … I’m so confident because of how hard I work at this. If I didn’t work so hard, I think that confidence would be fake, or false.”

Hill also gets strength from what he learned at Wisconsin, playing with several players who went on to the NBA.

“l got to see how they navigated situations in a game, and now I have that wealth of knowledge so that when I come out here — I still obviously make mistakes, which everyone does — I can kind of see things a bit ahead,” he said.

Hill would like to play professionally, and does not see himself getting into coaching, saying he is too much of a perfectionist. He refuses, though, to let his mind wander.

“It’s just a matter of enjoying being in the now, which a lot of people don’t do,” said Hill, who is working on a master’s degree in arts leadership. ”You got to stay in the present, and that’s what I’m working on. I’m trying to do my best to enjoy every moment I have.”

Richaud Gittens
All stastics include Saturday’s game.
Year Min. PPG RPG APG
2017-18 Seattle U 30.1 10.9 5.1 1.5
2016-17 Weber State 20.0 7.3 4.3 1.7
2015-16 Weber State 17.6 4.3 2.1 1.3
2014-15 Weber State 33.0 9.9 3.0 2.8
2013-14 Wisconsin 22.7 6.9 2.9 2.2
Josh Hearlihy
Year Min. PPG RPG APG
2017-18 Seattle U 29.9 12.9 4.6 2.9
2016-17 Vermont 10.0 2.0 1.4 0.6
2014-15 Tulane 8.5 1.5 1.5 0.6
2013-14 Tulane 5.4 0.5 0.6 0.3
Sat out 2015-16 season because of transfer rules
Jordan Hill
Year Min. PPG RPG APG
2017-18 Seattle U 32.0 13.8 3.6 3.8
2016-17 Wisconsin 9.9 1.5 1.1 0.5
2015-16 Wisconsin 16.1 3.0 1.4 0.8
2013-14 Wisconsin 2.3 0.6 0.3 0.1
Hill was a redshirt during the 2014-15 season for Wisconsin