Oak Mountain’s Heiberger named 2022-2023 Player of the Year

Published 7:17 am Friday, March 17, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

In his first three years at Oak Mountain High School, the boys basketball team had made it to the Final Four twice, won a state championship and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Yet, going into his senior season as an expected leader and starter, Matthew Heiberger was unsure if he wanted to continue playing. Fast forward approximately eight months, and the star for the Eagles not only led the Eagles back to the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row, but he’s walking away as the 2022-2023 Shelby County Player of the Year.

A standout baseball player for the Eagles expecting to attend the University of Alabama, he contemplated at different times taking the step away from basketball to focus on his efforts on the diamond during his final season.

With former Oak Mountain head coach Chris Love retiring in the offseason, the temptation became stronger.

New head coach Joel Floyd, however, new exactly how important Heiberger was to the team and the kind of season he could have.

Ultimately, Heiberger decided to suit up for his senior season, and that decision paid off.

“It was the best decision I’ve made,” Heiberger said after the team’s final game. “I prayed about it and it clicked at one point that I wanted to do it. I’m glad I came back to be a part of this. It was a great decision and a great time. It’s been the best time of my life.”

He quickly got off to an impressive start to his senior season, improving on the nine points and seven rebounds per game he averaged a season earlier.

Now the team’s go-to scorer, he ultimately went on to finish in double figures in every game aside from one seven-point performance during the season.

That led to an average of 21.5 points per game, which led the county this season, as well as 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

But, what was most impressive was his play down the stretch. A competitive edge seemed to come over him in the final few weeks of the season, which ultimately led to him scoring 30, 36, 33, 34, 35 and 25 through the area tournament championship game.

It was a big reason the Eagles were able to win the regular-season area crown, while they ultimately fell just short in the area tournament game before losing to Huntsville in the Sweet 16.

Heiberger went from on the fence about playing to leading his team on a special run to become the next in a line of players the last few years that have changed the standard and carried it on to the next year.

“Matt is an ultimate competitor,” Floyd said. “Similar to Justin Allison. He is the only other kid who I’ve ever been around who competes like he does. He refuses to lose. I’ve talked with coaches the past week, who have said, ‘Coach, I know you don’t match up well with them, but you may because Heiberger just won’t let you lose.’ He averaged 31 points per game the last six games. That was just him going and making plays. That’s for a kid doing it for fun. This isn’t even his sport. I can’t wait to watch him carry that over onto the mound and just go out there and watch him dominate people. It’s been fun to be a part of it as a coach, now I’m excited to watch as a fan.”

Chelsea’s Paul Lanzi, Spain Park’s Sam Wright and Zach Gray and Helena’s Josh Williams were the four big challengers for Heiberger this season with each averaging between 16 and 19 points per game.

Lanzi was actually the county’s second-leading scorer this season at 18.8 points per game, handling his first and only season in Class 7A extremely well, while Williams was one of the top three scorers in the county for the second year in a row as a junior thanks to 17.9 points per game.

Wright and Gray both averaged right around 16 points per game with Wright totaling 6.9 rebounds per game, which finished as one of the top three in the county.

But Heiberger’s presence was too much to overlook for this year’s award. He not only led the county in scoring at 21.5 points per game, but his 6. 5rebounds and 2.1 assists per game were two impressive marks, while his 63 steals defensively showcased his effort on both sides of the ball. All qualities made him more than deserving for the award this year.