Lena grad and college basketball player brings AAU program to area

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Connor Heise aims to develop athletes for high school and college
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Connor Heise, a Lena High School graduate and freshman at Viterbo University in La Crosse, is starting an AAU basketball program in Oconto and Marinette counties for ages 12, 14, 16 and 17. (Photo by Nate Beier)

Connor Heise attributes his youth years playing basketball on an Amateur Athletic Union team for helping craft him into a college-level athlete. The Lena High School graduate is bringing the program back to Marinette and Oconto counties to extend that opportunity to other youth hopefuls.

“I can’t say enough about what AAU did for me when I was younger,” said Heise, who graduated from Lena in 2017. “It allowed me to really zone in on my skills and perform at a higher level, which helped me play at the top of my team in high school and then in college.”

Heise, who was the Marinette and Oconto County conference player of the year his senior season and averaged 23 points per game, is now a freshman guard for the Hawks at Viterbo University in La Crosse. While working on his own with area high school athletes over the year, Heise decided he wanted to head an AAU program to give kids who are passionate about the game an opportunity to work in-depth on skills with like-minded players.

“AAU brings together those who really just love playing and want to work and get better,” Heise said. “This brings all of those kids together, so they’re really being challenged and playing more intense games than they would in school.”

Heise also hopes the program will give athletes in smaller schools the mindset that playing in college is not out of reach.

“I moved from a big school (Pulaski) to Lena, and I definitely felt that difference in feeling like you had a shot at playing in college. It wasn’t something that felt as achievable at a smaller school, and it wasn’t talked about as much,” Heise said. “I worked hard to prove to myself that school size and division didn’t have to make a difference in being able to play in college.

“I want to give other players in the area that same hope. If they want to put in the work and do extra things like AAU and really zone in on skill work and playing with others who have the same mindset, then playing at the college level is possible.”

Cole Long, a junior guard at Gillett who leads the Tigers this season with 17.5 points per game, will be joining Heise’s 17U team after training with him throughout the year.

“Connor worked with me on my skills, and I really felt that it helped a lot going into this season,” Long said. “He’s just really passionate about the game, and I’ve learned a lot from him already. So I’m excited to work more with him and play with other players at a higher level.”

Long, who has played with AAU in the past and hopes to play basketball at the collegiate level, sees the program as an opportunity to amplify his skills for his final season at Gillett.

“I definitely want to play in college, so I’m doing AAU to continue to enhance my skills during the offseason so I can achieve that goal,” he said. “And I want to play my absolute best my senior year, so I’m excited for this offseason.”

Heise’s AAU program is called One Mission and will be comprised of teams for ages 12, 14, 16 and 17.

The AAU teams will compete in the spring and summer with a total of four or five tournaments, depending on age. Tournaments start April 21-22 for 12U and 14U teams, and May 5-6 for 16U and 17U. Tournaments will be held in Wisconsin Dells (May 5-6), Kenosha (May 12) and Appleton (June 8-10, 22-24).

Practices will be held at Lena High School every Saturday following the high school season.