by Simonas Baranauskas / @LithuaniaBasket
The German team came into the U18 European Championship in Vilnius this summer with high expectations, possibly even hopes to finish on the podium after having assembled a talented and well-rounded roster. Many wouldn’t shy away from calling it the best one in years. However, the dream ended already after group stages as team Germany couldn’t pick up a single win and had to fight to avoid relegation.
Patrick Heckmann was the lone bright spot in the short and grim German campaign to glory. A frightfully athletic wing player with a creative feel to his game emerged as a top-shelf prospect only in Lithuania averaging 12.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists in the tournament, twice the production comparing to the U16 European Championship in Czech Republic two years ago.
The 18-year-old talented youngster is currently playing hoops for TV Langen 1862 in the German ProB division – third tier competition in the country. Heckmann has booked a regular starting spot for the Giraffes with solid play throughout the season so far collecting an average of 13.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.6 assists per game.
What looks like a promising career in Germany, is most likely to take a turn to the other side of the Atlantic as the player shows great enthusiasm about studying in the States and playing in NCAA. It might have not been only the studies-first approach from the player that will see him cross the pond after he finishes school in Germany, but also the fact that Patrick just prefers American style of basketball in general. The player reveals his thoughts about the game of basketball, his recent improvement and his future goals in an interview with The Lithuanian Perspective:
It’s not a secret that you want to go to the NCAA. What has been your motivation to do so, what are the main reasons?
I don’t know if it’s better, but basketball is played differently in America and I just like it that way. It’s just better over there – good players, with whom you can practice, good competition system. Also, the competition level is higher comparing to Germany, for example. And I really want to get a good graduation degree as well. That’s the only way I can handle studies and basketball at the same time. In Germany it’s difficult to do, probably like in the rest of Europe.
Many European players don’t succeed in NCAA and see their careers drop after unsuccessful stints. Is this on your mind?
I haven’t really thought about that actually. Though that shouldn’t be a problem – if I do see my level drop, I’d just stop, go back to Europe and try again here. I’ll still be young when I go to college. And the plan is to finish college and only then think about a professional career as a basketball player.
Your role within the German U18 National Team has increased greatly since the U16 European Championship two years ago. What did you improve most in your game during this stretch of time?
Definitely not my body… Well, I think my decision making has got better as well as attacking the rim, the basket and then trying to either finish or lay it up for somebody else. I went to the States for a year, played High School basketball and it’s just helped me in a lot of ways – like athletic stuff, court-vision, finishing. The game is faster over there and I just developed my game in general in the States. I can now play with the [German] team, play better than some other guys.
What has been wrong with your three-point shot?
I don’t know what’s wrong here. Usually I can hit those threes. I usually shoot at least 30-35 per cent. That’s what I used to shoot at home in my league. I just don’t have the answer for this.
Dirk Nowitzki made the jump to NBA directly from the German second division. You’re also playing in lower tier league right now. Could the story repeat itself? Is Dirk a role model for you?
I don’t think so. I really want to go to college and get my degree and only then try to professional basketball. My favorite player is actually Kobe Bryant. Just how he plays – so athletic, great court-vision, finishing.
If you had a choice to be a star in a European team or just a role player in the NBA – what would you choose?
I think I’d probably choose the NBA. Better league, better players… In a way it’s a goal for me, it’s really difficult to reach, but yes – it is a goal. I think it’s a goal for everybody, who’s playing basketball.