UCSB senior Maximilian Heidegger, avowed fan of Robert Frost, knows the poem as well as any schoolmate:
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
Heidegger must stay at home today as the rest of the Gaucho Blue-and-Gold board a flight for Saturday afternoon’s basketball game at Texas Arlington.
It will be his third-straight missed game and his 12th absence in the last two years because of concussion-related symptoms.
It’s enough to make any UCSB fan wonder if this haunting loop of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome will ever end.
“Max is day-to-day,” coach Joe Pasternack said again this week.
It’s about all he wants or even can say. It could be another week, or month, or … who knows?
A junior year that Heidegger described as “a mess, health-wise” was expected to improve with the turn of the season.
“I think I’m in the best place I’ve been in since I’ve been here,” Heidegger said as his senior year began a month ago. His headaches were gone. His knee no longer ached. His 6-foot-3 frame had been muscled up with an off-season of weight training.
His shot was gold again, too, finding its mark at a 59% percent rate through the Gauchos’ first three games. He averaged 20.3 points to that point and, for at least one glorious half, had the Gauchos on course for an upset at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
It was reminiscent of a sophomore season in which Heidegger’s 19.1-point average and school-record 95 three-pointers had put him on the All-Big West Conference first team.
But a pair of concussions and a gimpy knee derailed him at the start of last year …
… And then his head struck a metal railing last week at the Thunderdome.
The injury occurred during the closing minutes of UCSB’s Thanksgiving Eve game against Portland State. Heidegger was making an impact despite having made nary a basket. He drove and dished out four assists to go with a pair of steals that put the Gauchos on track for an 81-70 win.
But with under two minutes to go, he went one hustle play too far.
He was on the left baseline when teammate Amadou Sow blocked a shot by the Vikings’ Rashaad Goolsby. The ball was careening out of bounds when Heidegger leapt to save it, twisting in the air to throw it to point guard Devearl Ramsey.
Heidegger’s momentum, however, took him backwards into the first row of bench seating on the end court. He then tumbled into the aisle, striking the back of his head onto the metal handrail.
The railing had been recently installed as a safety measure … and, as it turned out, as a rub of salt into Heidegger’s wound.
He sat there, dazed, as his teammates dashed down court to eventually score on Sékou Touré’s fast-break put-back.
By the time the action had stopped, allowing trainer Jackson Smidt to leave the bench area, Heidegger had already departed the court. He got up and walked through a back exit before taking a hallway to his locker room.
As Robert Frost might muse, it was A Road Less Traveled.
HIPPA rules which prohibit the disclosure of protected health information have kept Heidegger’s status mostly under wraps. Not much was even said about his failure to attend UCSB’s post-Thanksgiving game against Grambling.
“He’ll continue to get better and improve,” is all Pasternack said. “When he does, that’s when he’ll be back.”
Even Heidegger’s teammates have remained mostly mum.
JaQuori McLauglin acknowledged his absence last week before adding, “I’m not really sure what happened to him.”
But the show goes on, even without a senior captain. The Gauchos (5-3) won both of their subsequent games and will be taking a four-game winning streak to Arlington to play a team that’s beaten the likes of Tulsa and fell just six points short at No. 8 Gonzaga last month.
Matt Freeman, a 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from Oklahoma, has tried to help junior guards McLaughlin and Ramsey with the leadership.
“Obviously, Max is a huge part of this team,” he said. “It’s a big piece missing when we don’t have him here.
“Other guys have to step up and that’s what they’ve been doing. That’s what coach always talks about: Next man up.”
Freeman has earned the respect of his new teammates by shooting 50% percent from the three-point line (17-for-34) and 52.6% overall while averaging 11.4 points.
Injuries have also forced guard Brandon Cyrus to miss two games and Ramsey to sit out another. The thin backcourt has forced McLaughlin to carry a heavy load, playing all but three minutes in each of the last two games.
“I think I’m pretty conditioned to play all those minutes,” McLaughlin said. “I need to play, so I feel pretty good.”
It is poetry to the ears of Pasternack, who needs a Max effort now from all.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: email@example.com