The last assist Max Heidegger got this basketball season came as he awaited an ambulance ride outside the UC Riverside gym.
UCSB teammate Brandon Cyrus walked up in the aftermath of Thursday’s comeback victory, shook Heidegger’s hand, and said, “We’ve got this for you.”
If the Gauchos are to recover from the loss of their top scorer, Cyrus will have to fill that void.
The junior transfer from DePaul stepped in to start all 10 games that Heidegger missed with a concussion earlier this year, and he will be called upon again now that the senior guard is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.
“Max is obviously a big piece to our team and we were just starting to catch stride with him,” Cyrus said. “But our team is still so talented — one through eight — with guys who have crazy potential.
“It’s next man up. Guys are going to have to step up, and I think everyone is going to do that.”
They have little time for anything else with the Big West Conference Tournament looming next week.
The Gauchos (19-10, 8-6 Big West), who are tied with UC Davis and Cal State Northridge for second place, are down to just two regular-season home games: Thursday against Cal State Fullerton and Saturday against Cal Poly.
They are also down to just eight scholarship players.
“We were down to this many earlier in the year when Max had his concussion,” Cyrus pointed out. “It kind of prepped us for now. We’ve been hitting our stride and winning games in a row.
“We’re primed to making a run in the tournament.”
Cyrus, a 6-foot-5 guard, has appeared on plenty of big stages. He played for Team Canada in the FIBA World Championships for both its U16 and U17 teams.
He also helped Indiana’s La Lumiere Prep take second at the DICK’s Sporting Goods National Championships in 2016. He was rated by Scout.com as the nation’s 24th-best shooting guard which, in turn, earned him a scholarship from DePaul and 55 starts in two seasons with the Blue Demons.
Cyrus scored 20 points in his final game at DePaul in a near-upset of third-ranked Xavier.
“I have been in some big games in my life,” he said. “Someone has to step up and someone has to take charge. We have a lot of guys who can do that with this team.
“I just feel like everyone is ready to roll.”
Cyrus was born in Toronto but moved to San Diego at age 14 with his parents, Derron and Cassandra. After just one season at Torrey Pines High, however, he got the chance to play for La Lumiere.
“They’ve produced a lot of great players and they compete almost every year for a national championship,” Cyrus said. “It’s a high academic school, too, where basketball is like a second priority to your becoming a better man. That was a big reason I went there.
“But it’s definitely hard being away from your parents and your siblings when you’re 15. It makes you grow up with a very tight bond with your teammates. Those guys ended up being my best friends for the rest of my life. I still talk to them every day.”
Cyrus, who twice made the Big East Conference All-Academic Team at DePaul, was ready to come home after two years in Chicago. He transferred to UCSB and sat out last season as a redshirt. He’ll walk graduation this spring with a degree in sociology but will play for the Gauchos again next year as he pursues a graduate degree in education.
“Honestly, I’m all about connections,” he said. “Some of my AAU coaches back in Canada had known John Rillie (the Gauchos’ associate head coach). I also knew coach (Joe) Pasternack since my freshman year of high school when he was recruiting for Arizona. There’s a familiarity with the program.
“There was also just the enticement of coming home and having my family come to my games. My parents have been able to make it to almost every one, and I’m able to drive back home to San Diego on the weekends to see my family.”
He also found a familiar face when he took his recruiting trip to Santa Barbara. Junior guard Devearl Ramsey, who had transferred to UCSB from Nevada a year earlier, had played against him three times: once when Cyrus was at Torrey Pines, once when he was at La Lumiere, and then again when they were on their junior national teams.
“He was a pesky defender, a slasher – a real good player,” recalled Ramsey, who had played for Team USA. “We always talk about it, about how we played against each other in Dubai and Uruguay … I’m 2-1 against him.
“I hosted him on his official visit. I was excited to get him here. He’s a good player and his energy is contagious, as coach always says. He’s always talking and he’s always energetic.”
The good vibe that Cyrus got from Ramsey when they’d crossed paths was confirmed during his recruiting trip.
“Devearl is a really quiet guy at first,” he began. “But when you get to know him, he’s one of the funniest people you’d ever want to know … and now he’s one of my best friends. We hang out together every day.
“He’s a vibrant soul. You’ll catch him in the locker room just doing funny stuff. In games, every time you see him make a big shot, he turns around and just smiles. Other guys will go and beat their chests or yell out to the crowd, but he just starts smiling.”
Cyrus has often had to grimace through pain this season. He tore the meniscus in his knee during his redshirt year, took a hard fall on his tailbone which forced him to miss two games last November, and has also dealt with hand and ankle injuries.
“You just have to take them on the chin and deal with them,” said Cyrus, whose hand had healed enough by last Saturday for him to make a pair of three-pointers against UC Irvine. “We’ve had guys go down all year — everyone has missed a couple of games, here and there.
“But that’s how we’ve learned how to play with different lineups and in different situations. It’s only made us better.”
The fiber of Cyrus’ character has helped keep the Gauchos a close-knit team.
“He’s really a magnetic personality with his teammates,” Pasternack said. “His energy, his passion … his teammates really follow him.
“That’s something that doesn’t show up in a box score. He has God-given leadership traits that have really helped us.”
His teammates have made that easy, Cyrus said. Ramsey and JaQuori McLaughlin, UCSB’s starting guards, “take my opinion seriously, and that’s probably why we play so well together.”
“I’ve never been to a place where everyone is just so loving,” he added. “As soon as I came here, everyone took me in.
“We don’t have a bad apple on the team. Everyone is a good guy. Everyone cares about each other. We laugh every day, talk every day. It’s just a great environment. It’s one of a kind.”
And it turned the worst of times into a moment that Cyrus will remember most of all.
“When Max went down against Riverside, everyone crowded around him, and everyone was going, ‘Let’s do it for Max! … Let’s finish strong for him!’” he said. “Max goes down and we’re playing for him, we’re praying for him, and we’re just going to do our best for him right now.”
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.