If he had not picked up a basketball at an early age, Max Heidegger might be snowboarding or skiing in the Olympic Winter Games this weekend rather than watching them. And the UCSB Gauchos would be missing a dynamic piece of their 2017-18 men’s hoops team, which is off to one of the best starts in school history.
Klaus Heidegger, Max’s father, was an Austrian alpine skier who finished second in the overall World Cup standings in 1977 behind Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden. Injuries ended his career before the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. He has since settled down in America with a successful business career. Max grew up in the San Fernando Valley.
UCSB professors have asked Max if he’s related to Martin Heidegger, a famous German philosopher. “No way,” he said. “My dad’s from a small farming family.”
If Max Heidegger has a philosophy, it might be this: “I shoot, score, and defend; therefore, I am.” In those terms, last year he underwent an existential crisis. He had been scoring 28 points a game at Oaks Christian High, but as a Gaucho freshman he missed almost three-quarters of his shots. He still had to play on a team depleted by injuries, and UCSB went through a dismal 6-22 season.
This year’s Gauchos are currently 18-5, tied for first place with a 7-2 record in the Big West, and Heidegger is the leading scorer in the conference, averaging 20.9 points per game. Fans at the Thunderdome have yet to see the Gauchos lose. They are 11-0 at home.
Heidegger’s sharpshooting from distance — he is making 42.4 percent of his three-point shots — has put UCSB’s foes on high alert. He almost always has a defender in his face. Sometimes he still scores over them because of his quick release. Other times, he drives to the basket, or he gives the ball up and moves around the key like a whirling dervish — something his father, who specialized in the slalom and giant slalom, accomplished on skis.
“He’s a crazy guy; I love him,” Max Heidegger said. “When I was a kid, I’d go skiing with him just for fun. I could see how good he was, even though he’s older. He had really bad back problems from falls he took. I was more of a snowboarder because my dad didn’t like snowboarders. I’d snowboard to make him a little angry.”
It was his father who encouraged Max to keep playing basketball when stress fractures were curtailing his progress. “I had a couple points I thought about hanging it up,” Heidegger said. “Before my senior year in high school, I was disheartened, my body aching. He told me, ‘Stay, and you won’t regret it.’”
Joe Pasternack gave Heidegger another push when he became UCSB’s head coach after last season.
“My first impression of Coach P. — I didn’t know how I’d get along with him,” the 6ʹ2″ sophomore guard said. “He’s really Type A — always get to it, get to it. I’m a little more laid-back. I was worried at first, but when I got to know him — how much he cared, how good a coach he was — I’m really happy he’s here.”
Heidegger worked on the mechanics of his shot — taking up to 1,000 a day in the off-season — as well as his attitude. “Whenever I missed shots, I’d really take it poorly; I’d be upset,” he said. “Now I miss however many shots, I know it’s coming back to me; I know I’ll make the next one. That’s a big thing in my maturation as a player.”
Heidegger and his teammates harbor a mutual trust. If he misses a shot, Leland King II might score on a put-back. King, a graduate transfer, had 25 points and 17 rebounds in last Saturday’s 75-51 victory over Cal State Northridge and was named Big West player of the week.
“Leland is a double-double machine,” Heidegger said. “Gabe [Vincent, a senior guard] is our leader, a role model for me. I’m happy to have all those older guys on the team.”
The Gauchos are in the thick of a highly competitive Big West race. Tonight (Thu., Feb. 8) they visit UC Davis (16-7, 7-2) in a showdown of first-place teams. Next Thursday, they play at Long Beach State, which is in striking distance. UCSB’s next home game is a rematch against Davis at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 17.
There was no safer place in town Monday than the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s 32nd annual Girls and Women in Sports Day luncheon. The featured speakers were three athletes who have become leaders in public safety: Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, UCSB Assistant Police Chief Cathy Farley, and Newport Beach fire engineer/medic Erin Alexander Brown. Their message to hundreds of female athletes in attendance was to carry their values — hard work, persistence, teamwork — into their professions. They also showed their smarts. Brown, who was a sharpshooter on UCSB’s women’s basketball team in the 1990s, said she was once asked by the mother of a firefighter who weighed over 300 pounds, “Would you be able to pull my son out of a burning building?” She responded, “I don’t think anybody could pull your son out of a burning building.” But she could pull together a rescue team.
Two former UCSB soccer stars — Chris Pontius and Ema Boateng — will return to Harder Stadium on Thursday, February 15, as members of the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Major League Soccer team will play an exhibition match at 7:30 p.m. against Fresno FC of the United Soccer League. UCSB’s men will play a preliminary game at 5 p.m. against the Ventura County Fusion, a pro development team. Tickets are for sale at soccer outlets in three counties.