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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Heise stays hustling

Nate Heise hits a shot from behind the arc in front of a hometown crowd.

The 2024 season has been a journey for every member of the UNI men’s basketball team. Currently sitting at fourth in the conference with four games left of the regular season, the Panthers have dealt with much adversity throughout the year, with their current standing being hard-earned. However, there have been many signs of promise despite the struggles of the season, with the most notable being the breakout year of Panther sophomore Nate Heise.

Growing up under two former college basketball players in Lake City, Minnesota, Heise was a born competitor with his two siblings. His sister, Taylor was a college hockey star for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, as well as the first overall pick in the 2022 PWHL Draft. His younger brother Ryan followed the steps of his parents and brother, currently playing basketball for Upper Iowa University.

“It was a competitive atmosphere throughout my whole upbringing,” Heise said about his childhood. 

Though athletics was not forced onto him and his siblings, the collective drive they had to be great athletes and enjoy sports was evident from the beginning.

“You weren’t forced to do however many sports, you just wanted to,” Heise said. 

His parents, Tony and Amy, provided different approaches to the Heise bunch as they were growing up, a sentiment many athletes know all too well.

“My mom was big on how you act and school…my dad (focused on) competition,” Heise said. “For some kids, they can take it the wrong way but it worked out for me and my siblings.”

The proof of the Heise family’s success is self-evident, as every child has competed at the collegiate level. 

Nate Heise gives a lot of his credit today to his older sister, Taylor, as he picked up many habits from her that he believed got her to where she is today.

“She always wrote down her goals,” Heise said about Taylor. “The biggest thing I learned from her was the approach, mentality, and work ethic she had. Even now there’s a lot to learn from her.”

When it came time for Heise to settle on a school to play on the next level, it was the University of Northern Iowa that gave him his first Division 1 offer.

“In my mind, it was mostly D2,” Heise said about his recruiting experience.

For Heise, location played an important role. With UNI only being two and a half hours away, it made his decision much easier for him.

“If I had gotten a Division 1 offer from someplace in California, I probably would have gone D2,” Heise said. “(UNI) had a hometown feel and ‘everything I looked for.’”

When finally arriving on campus in 2020, Heise was thrown into play for the Panthers right away. He would refer to himself as a “role player” in his first two seasons, not being the star of the game but a player who helped the team run efficiently.

“In a program like this you work your way up,” Heise said. “The biggest change has been the mentality and confidence.”

The change for Heise came from the transition of being a role player to a guy the team counts on to take shots, a big mentality change from the latter. However, Heise knew last year that he had paid his dues and earned his opportunity to have a massive impact on the game.

Unfortunately for Heise, his 2022-23 campaign would be cut short due to a hand injury sustained in the second game of the year. With intentions of playing a bigger role that year, Heise was stuck on the sideline, having to watch the rest of his team play without him.

However, Heise made good use of his time on the injury list, being able to see the game from a different perspective and realigning his goals and motivations.

“I learned more in that one year than any year prior,” Heise said. “Going into this year I was way more prepared.”

Even though he had high expectations for last year, he spent his time reflecting on how he wanted to approach the game whenever he was able to get back into it. Having to play a lot during his first two years, Heise was grateful for getting the chance to sit back and refocus.

That change in mindset has worked out for Heise this season, as he is currently the Panthers leader in the scoring, assist, and blocking categories, as well as playing the most minutes per game on the team.

With the conference tournament just around the corner, Heise understands what the Panthers have to get done for them to win a conference championship and an NCAA tournament bid. 

“As a mid-major team, you lose 4-5 games your at-large (bid) is done,” Heise said. “You focus entirely on the conference tournament.”

For Heise and the rest of the Panthers, they know the time is now to get their shot.

“We’ve struggled with consistency,” Heise said about the Panthers. “Our offense is good, we have to count on our defense more.”

For the Panthers to win the conference tournament, consistency is key, as they will have to win three games in a row against the best in the conference to take home the hardware.

“You have to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year- that’s the main focus,” Heise said.

Though the season had brought on challenges for the Panthers, they understood mentally they had the capabilities of winning it all.

“If we play at our best, we know we can win the conference tournament,” Heise said. “As long as you know you can, that’s really all you need”.

As the MVC tournament kicks off at the end of the month, Heise and the Panthers will attempt to make their statement in St. Louis.

Heise still has two more years remaining of eligibility at Northern Iowa and plans to play basketball as long as he can. Over the next couple of years, he will get his master’s degree in Supply Chain Management, with hopes of playing basketball overseas once his college career concludes. Hopeful landing spots for him include Spain, Greece, or Italy.

“Go with the flow” is Heise’s mentality for the foreseeable future. After dealing with injury and the typical struggles of Division One athletics, Heise is grateful he still gets to play the sport he loves and hopes to continue doing so far in the future. 

“You’re not gonna realize how much you accomplished until after the fact,” Heise said.

One day, perhaps he will finally get the opportunity to reflect on the already stellar career he has already demonstrated.

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