Basketball forges bond for Heinle siblings
Brian Heinle and his sister, Mallory, share a normal sibling relationship. They bicker over minor details and don't agree on everything .
But they can agree on this: basketball has strengthened the foundation of their bond, nurtured its progress, and perhaps, made it what it is today.
The pair of former St. Joseph basketball stars have been critiquing and molding one another's games since they learned how to dribble. And they've continued to do so into college.
“We're each other's biggest fans and critics,” Mallory said. “We take what we say to each other to heart. Sometimes it can be annoying when mom and dad tell you something. But it's different when it comes from one of us.”
While Mallory is just beginning her college career at Slippery Rock, Brian is a on the verge of finishing his at Pitt-Greensburg.
Still, the Heinles follow one another's progress from afar.
“We watch our games online,” said Brian, a senior forward who is listed as a “W” on the roster. “We could be three hours apart. And we'll text each other, ‘good game' and things like that.
“We have always been close. We'd always go to the Y(MCA) in the summer and we'd shoot around in the driveway.”
The “W” stands for wing. Brian said UPG coach Sean Strickland uses that label for swingmen because the up-tempo Bobcats have so many of them.
“He is more of a forward with a guard mentality,” Strickland said. “Pretty sure neither him or I expected it to turn out that way, but it has made him a better player. He still has all of his guard skills, plus has developed a good post game, which makes him very hard to defend.”
UPG is known for its fast-paced style, one that has produced an AMCC-high 82.2 points per game. The Bobcats love to run the floor, apply defensive pressure and get shots up playing with the urgency of “a 15-second shot clock,” as Brian said.
“(An opponent) was at the foul line and he was huffing and puffing and could hardly talk,” Brian said. “He goes to me, ‘I hate playing you guys.'”
Brian, who is 38 points shy of 1,000 for his career, a milestone he and his sister reached at St. Joseph, is Division III UPG's only senior. That distinction comes with responsibility to which he still is warming up.
“I almost put too much pressure on myself,” Brian said. “I've had one-on-one meetings with my coach and he's seen me getting frustrated. He wants me to be more vocal. The freshmen talk more than I do. I tend to wait until I have the perfect thing to say.”
Strickland said Heinle was his first recruit, and that the senior is the foundation of his program.
“Brian has done a lot of great things for us, but I'm most proud of how he's developed as a leader because he was forced to get out of his comfort zone and be more vocal,” Strickland said. “The leadership skills he's developed will be a great asset to him as he enters into the real world of corporate America.”
Brian's actions have echoed throughout UPG's Chambers Hall. He is fourth on the team in scoring (12.1 ppg) and averages 5.3 rebounds in 30.2 minutes a game. He has made 35 3-pointers and has scored in double figures 13 times this season.
His season high came against Penn State Altoona when he scored 25 for UPG (10-9, 10-2 AMCC).
Mallory's transition to the college game — by her own admission — has been challenging. The freshman forward quickly found her way into the starting lineup, making nine starts and appearing in 19 games for the Rock (8-12, 4-12 PSAC).
She is averaging 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game in 13.3 minutes.
“I knew it would be difficult, but it's been more difficult than I expected,” Mallory said. “With the training I did over the summer, I thought I was a best-prepared as I could be. But there are some monstrous post players at this level. I mean I'm tall, but I'm not wide. It's a challenge to play back-to-the-basket basketball. Going from Class A high school ball to the PSAC is an unbelievable difference.”
A swing-guard at St. Joseph, the 6-foot-2 Heinle has moved to the post for the Rock, who endured a coaching change in the offseason — acting coach Bobby McGraw replaced Tanya Longo, who initially recruited Heinle before resigning.
Advice from big brother has helped her focus.
“He is someone I know who has gone through this,” Mallory said. “This is probably the first season in our lives where I haven't been to all of his games. But our relationship has grown. We've talked a lot about my transition.”
“At the beginning of the year,” Brian said, “I told her, ‘let the game come to you.' She was coming from high school where she was getting the ball every possession. Now, she was thrown back to the bottom. And I told her to utilize the training room.”
Those who know the Heinles are aware of their work ethic, which complements their natural talents.
As for the Heinle parents, Brian and Cindy, who are sometimes torn between children and colleges, they somehow find time to see both play.
“A couple times they went to her game, then came to mine,” Brian said. “One was at Slippery Rock and the other at La Roche. Sometimes they split up and one goes to one game, and the other goes to another.”
Mallory, who sometimes talks on the phone with her mother while the two watch one of Brian's games online, said Brian's games are more important — at least for now.
“I have three years left,” she said. “This is his home stretch. His games take preference.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.