Heidelberg’s team-first approach breeds success for Panthers

By Joseph Garcia

Liberty Hill junior guard Tristan Heidelberg (#24) is a defensive specialist for the Runnin’ Panthers who puts the team first. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

“Tristan (Heidelberg) is the consummate ‘team player’,” says Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers basketball Coach Barry Boren. But that’s just where his team-first approach begins.

The two-sport (basketball and baseball) athlete does not turn 17 until Feb. 19, but the junior guard is one of the most mature, professional-mannered and appreciated players on Liberty Hill’s team.

Heidelberg, who has started a few games this season, is a stifling defensive presence for opposing guards. He says his defense, hustle and his ability to hit open shots when needed contribute greatly to the team.

“It’s a team sport and yes, there is a lot of individual talent involved, but at the end of the day if you don’t play as a team, you can’t win,” said Heidelberg. “One of my favorite sayings is that it’s all about the ‘Big Picture’.” I believe that (a team-first attitude) makes us successful because we come closer to one another and there aren’t any feuds that interfere with our game play.”

Born in San Angelo, Heidelberg and his family moved to Liberty Hill nearly four years ago by way of Oklahoma. “T-Berg” as he is called started playing his first love, baseball, at the age of five before picking up a basketball a couple of years later when he was seven.

He says he loves both sports, and will play baseball for Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan when the basketball season is over. Coach Kristan strongly believes in finishing what you start, so he encouraged Heidelberg to complete the basketball season to the best of his abilities, but to also maintain his baseball acumen.

“(Coach Kristan) has encouraged me to do my best in basketball and to stay focused,” Heidelberg said. “But (he said) not to drop baseball completely.”

Right now, however, Heidelberg is concentrating on his basketball teammates and their ultimate goal of winning a state championship. Over the season, he and his teammates bonded together, which for a team-oriented person like Heidelberg, is one of the greatest things that he’s experienced in his young life.

“I think the coolest thing (that has happed this season) is how close I have become with my team,” he said. “I spend more time with these guys than I do with my own family. They have become part of my family, (like) my brothers.”

Coach Boren said Heidelberg is both liked and looked up to for his unselfishness by his teammates and is a leader in his own way.

“He literally knows the concept that in order to lead one must be willing to serve others,” Boren said. “There is not a player on our team that does not admire and respect Tristan (Heidelberg). “He embodies everything that one would want in a teammate. He is honest, loyal, and trustworthy. He works hard; he is unselfish to a fault and everyone appreciates him.”

Heidelberg is no stat filler in any particular category, but the young man does it all. He is near 80 percent from the free throw line for the season, he is a gritty defender who blocks out and rebounds well and is always mixing it up for loose balls.

Simply put, he does the dirty work and is recognized for being a gamer.

“(Heidelberg) is not necessarily great at any one particular aspect of the game, yet he is very good in many areas,” Boren said. “He’s not a great 3-point shooter, yet he has hit some timely shots. He is always hustling and seems to come up with key rebounds and steals. What he always brings into the game is a spurt of energy. He is always moving, which sometimes results in an easy conversion of a steal or it just ends another team’s possession.”

Heidelberg is also one of the brightest players on the team with a high basketball IQ. Often he knows exactly where everyone is on the court and gets the ball where it needs to go quickly and effectively (much like the shortstop he is).

“Be quick, but don’t hurry,” to quote the great UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden, is how Heidelberg seemingly goes about his business on the court and off.

“He translates his on-court ‘smarts’ to the classroom as well,” Boren boasted. “He is an outstanding student. Moreover, he is a great citizen. He will assume the reins of leader for our next year’s squad because even as a junior, he leads. He does it more by example than anyway else. Isn’t that the best kind – show me, don’t tell me?”