The pause button has been pushed on the next showing of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Max Heidegger, the free-wheeling guard who thrilled UCSB basketball fans with his death-defying moves the last four years, awaits an uncertain future at an apartment not far from a pad-locked Thunderdome.
His “virtual” graduation from UCSB is on Saturday, his apartment lease expires on Monday … and then what?
“It’s been tough because everything is so much in limbo,” he said. “It’s hard to say what’s going on.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has hamstrung the 6-foot-3 senior just as much as the injuries that have plagued much of his career.
“I have aspirations to keep playing,” said Heidegger, who will receive a degree in sociology this week. “I potentially have workouts with NBA teams, but so much with that is up in the air.
“I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on and what the next step is for me.”
The NBA, which announced plans to restart its current season July 31 at the Disney World Sports Complex in Orlando, has delayed its draft of new players until Oct. 15. It has not yet allowed its teams to work out draft-eligible players.
“I’d love to take the opportunity regardless of my injury,” said Heidegger, who has been rehabilitating his ankle and foot for the last 15 weeks. “I’d love to play as long as I can and put off the 9-to-5 as much as possible.
“No disrespect to you 9-to-5ers out there — I know I’ll have one of those jobs one day — but you’re young and healthy for only so long. I want the chance to pursue the dream as long as I can.”
Heidegger, who averaged 16.0 points per game this season, is only the seventh Gaucho in history to make the All-Big West Conference first team more than once (in 2018 as well as this year). John Tschogl (1970-72), Orlando Johnson (2010-12), and Alan Williams are the only three-time Gauchos to make the first team, and all three made it to the NBA.
Heidegger’s 1,347 career points rank 15th on UCSB’s all-time scoring list. He could’ve easily reached the top 10 — a spot currently occupied by former teammate Gabe Vincent (1,441 points) who’s now with the NBA’s Miami Heat — had his career not been interrupted by several ailments. They included a knee injury, three concussions … and an unfortunate misstep during UCSB’s Feb. 27 game at UC Riverside.
“I landed on someone’s foot and rolled over my ankle and then rolled it back,” he recalled. “I tried to take a few steps but it just wasn’t possible.
“I freaked out at first, thinking it was pretty bad. It ended up being just a bad sprain.”
It ended his collegiate career, although UCSB’s season was also shortened just three weeks later. The coronavirus pandemic forced the Big West to cancel its post-season tournament on March 12, just hours before the Gauchos were to take the floor against Riverside at Anaheim’s Honda Center.
“I’d say my foot is about 85 percent right now,” Heidegger said. “I’ve been able to do a lot of stuff, like running and all that, although the coronavirus has made the rehab go a little bit slower than I would’ve liked.
“But really, my foot is the least of it. It honestly pales in comparison to what others are going through right now with this crisis.”
He said his body actually feels “right for the first time in a long while.”
“I’ve had very few opportunities like this in my life where I’ve been able to just let my body heal,” he said. “I’ve got nothing nagging me right now.
“I’ve had enough freak accidents to last a lifetime. It’s given me the mindset that I’m due for nothing more.”
Heidegger hopes to find new living quarters in Santa Barbara so he can train in town this summer. The coronavirus has prevented him from moving back with his parents, Jami and Klaus Heidegger, in Malibu.
“My mom has a lung disease so I don’t want to take any chances with that,” he said. “These are definitely different and wild times. I don’t think anyone saw this coming.
“In a perfect world, I would’ve liked to have had that last quarter of school with my friends.”
He does have high expectations for the Gaucho next season.
“With all the guys leaving CSUN, and with UC Irvine graduating the core of their team, we could be the favorites,” Heidegger said. “Our guys are going to be a year older, and I know we’re adding some good players like Miles (Norris) and Ajare (Sanni).”
Norris, the state’s JC Player of the Year last season for the City College of San Francisco, originally played for the University of Oregon. Sanni sat out last year as a redshirt after transferring from the University of Pacific.
They’ll join a lineup that returns starters JaQuori McLaughlin, Devearl Ramsey and Amadou Sow, as well as key reserves Robinson Idehen, Brandon Cyrus, Sékou Touré, and Jay Nagle. Freshman Jakov Kukic will also come off a redshirt year while Destin Barnes, the leading scorer at Jacksonville last year, will be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer.
“This might be the most talent we’ve ever had,” Heidegger said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.”
As interesting, perhaps, as the futuristic basketball world of Mad Max.