One of the greatest one-two punches in UCSB basketball history had their hands tied last summer when they swung by the Thunderdome to put up some shots.
The coronavirus had put the pro careers of Leland King II and Max Heidegger on pause, forcing both to look past a basketball … and into a crystal ball.
What would life be like after basketball?
“I was working out with Heid, and coach P walked in with Little Joe,” King said, referring to UCSB coach Joe Pasternack and his son. “We just started talking, and he asked about our plans.
“It was actually at that point that I decided that I didn’t want to keep playing. I told him I wanted to move on.”
And that’s when Pasternack made his move, recruiting King to a different kind of team. He put him in touch with Patrick Flood, a Santa Barbara-based financial advisor for UBS. By November, King was working in Los Angeles for that global financial firm.
“Leland was our first important recruit at UCSB,” said Pasternack, who signed King as a graduate transfer for the 2017-18 season. “He’s a high-character kid from an unbelievable family. When he signed with us, we told him that he had made a 50-year decision.
“We said, ‘You won’t be able to play basketball forever … The air will go out of the ball sometime, but this is the No. 5-rated public university in America … A degree from here really means something, and our alumni are very influential … And coming here is an insurance policy for the rest of your life.’
“Leland trusted us. And sure enough, when his career was over, and he asked for help, we really wanted to take care of him.”
Heidegger, who eventually returned to basketball two months ago to play in Israel, could vouch for his coach’s sincerity. He was already working his second summer internship with Stifel, a financial advisory firm in Santa Barbara.
“Coach P connected me with John Van Donge, who’s a real great guy, and he got Marcus (Jackson) working for them, as well,” said Heidegger, referring to the point guard on UCSB’s 2017-18 team. “Every kid who plays basketball dreams of playing professionally, but not every guy is going to be able to do that.
“As a recruit, you don’t always understand how important that network of people can become. I see Leland and Marcus flourishing now with those opportunities, and it shows how important it is to have those people here in Santa Barbara who care about the program and its players.”
Heidegger and King combined to score 1,110 points during the 2017-18 season, helping the Gauchos set a school record for victories with a 23-9 mark. As one-two punches go, they rank second at UCSB behind only future NBA players Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally (1,194 points in 2011).
Heidegger, a 6-foot-3 guard, and King, a 6-7 forward, were both voted to the 2018 All-Big West Conference first team. It marked only the fifth time in UCSB’s 57 seasons as a Division 1 program that it had placed two players on an all-league first team.
King was also only the ninth Division 1 Gaucho to average a double-double. His 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game put him in the exclusive company of John Conroy (1964), Dick Kolberg (1967), Doug Rex (1969-71), John Service (1976), Richard Anderson (1982), York Gross (1983), Eric McArthur (1989-90), and Alan Williams (2013-15).
He received a master’s degree in education and then got an education in international relations by playing the next two seasons in Finland and Bosnia. He experienced culture shock the entire way.
“A lot of people I came across in Bosnia had never seen black people, so I got a lot of stares,” King said. “It was fine, but I was pretty surprised by that.”
He ranked among the leaders in Bosnia’s top division, averaging 15 points and 7.2 rebounds.
King’s next stop was on the other side of the world after he signed last year to play for Australia’s Hume City Broncos. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled his season, however, before it could get started last March.
“Honestly, I felt OK about it,” he said. “It was kind of a relief. The overseas process was a little difficult for me. It’s different than in high school and college, where you’re playing with your friends and in front of your family.
“That year at UCSB was really a lot of fun. We had a lot of characters on that team, and it was a good group, and I was playing for a coaching staff that really believed in me.”
He is keeping his hand in the game. His office with UBS is just a few miles from his alma mater, Brentwood School, where he now helps with the basketball team. He’s also planning to play in some professional 3-on-3 tournaments.
King and former Gaucho teammate Gabe Vincent, now a member of the NBA’s Miami Heat, were part of the Big West team that finished second in the inaugural 3X3U National Basketball Tournament.
“I had a good time in basketball,” King said. “I want to keep that going.”
Heidegger was King’s sophomore teammate when he set a school record with 95 three-pointers and averaged 19.1 points — 10th-highest all-time at UCSB. He scored 1,347 points by the time he graduated last spring to rank 15th in the school record books. He was only the seventh Gaucho to ever make the All-Big West first team more than once.
Although COVID-19 has limited his sight-seeing overseas, he is averaging 15.6 points per game for Bnei Herzliya of the Israel Premier League. He’s shooting 54% from three-point range and nearly 60% overall.
“It’s more up-tempo than college, and definitely more physical,” Heidegger said. “But at the end of the day, basketball is basketball. There are still things I’m picking up and learning, and I’m enjoying the experience.”
He has hopes of joining Vincent in the NBA someday, but he’s not fixating on it.
“I’m just focusing on winning games right now,” he said. “Once the season is over, I’ll kind of reevaluate what the next step will be, playing-wise.
“For now, I’m just trying to take care of business here.”
Heidegger would like to enter the financial world when his playing career ends. He’s already been studying the best ways to invest his own basketball salary.
“I think it’s a great fit for me,” he said. “The different fields in the financial world require you to be personable, but it’s also competition-based.
“I think a career in the financial world is as close to sports as you can get. There is a lot of pressure in dealing with money, and I kind of like those pressure-filled situations.”
And his numbers, so far, are all looking good.