When Kayleigh Heckel transferred from Port Chester High School to Long Island Lutheran before the 2022-23 school year, it was to begin her journey of playing with some of the most talented female basketball players in the world. But even when making her move to Long Island from growing up near the New York/Connecticut border, she never forgot her hometown of Port Chester, New York.
“My whole goal was to be the best player I could be, but also to represent Port Chester,” Heckel said. “They haven’t really had a girls basketball player at a high level, so being able to represent my town, I feel like that’s really cool and I want everyone to know I’m from Port Chester, so it puts us on the map.”
Heckel, who was a Newsday All-Long Island selection last season, did just that at the prep level for Long Island Lutheran. Next year, she’ll move to the west coast in hopes of doing the same after announcing her commitment to play at USC on Saturday afternoon surrounded by family and teammates at Long Island Lutheran.
Heckel, a 5-9 senior guard ranked 28th in her class by ESPN, averaged 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals per game last season. . She hopes to bring a playmaking style to a USC program currently ranked No. 21 in the nation with a budding array of younger and incoming talent.
“I think my facilitating and my point guard level will be able to help USC,” Heckel told Newsday before her official announcement. “Just my ball handling, passing, my ability to get to the basket I think will really open up opportunities for shooters on our team.”
Heckel, who said she’s interested in business and computer science, said the strong academics and those programs at USC also played a key role in her decision. LuHi coach Christina Raiti wasn’t surprised by that.
“She’s an A++ student,” Raiti said. “Even before she came to LuHi, it was about what APs she can take and which ones fit in her schedule whereas other kids' questions are mostly about the basketball itself. Hers was mostly academic and that’s just a really important piece to her journey.”
Heckel is the fourth LuHi senior to commit to a Division I school this year. The Crusaders went 23-3 in a state Federation Class AA championship-winning season last year. The Crusaders also made the GEICO Nationals final, losing to Montverde Academy, 60-54. Heckel orchestrated that talented offense as the point guard, and Raiti believes she can do the same for Southern Cal.
“I think she’s going to have plenty of opportunities there and that opportunity was very important to her,” Raiti said. “She can make a difference in a program and make some other very talented players even better. I think that’s the goal.”
Heckel's list of finalists included Tennessee, Alabama and Stanford before deciding on USC. She received her first college offer in the eighth grade and became amazed at those that followed. Heckel said the opportunity to play for coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose career included serving as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, also played a key role.
“If I go back to eighth grade, I would have never thought this would be my final four,” Heckel said. “I worked really hard and I’m just blessed to be recruited by these high-level schools and to be able to pick a school I think is best for me.”
Heckel is looking forward to one final season with the Crusaders.
“It takes a weight off you because you know you are going to be representing that one school, so you don’t have to worry about that when you’re playing,” Heckel said. “You just have to worry about winning and having fun because I think senior year can be a lot of fun, especially with our strength of schedule this season.”