This week, the NCAA has passed favorable verdicts on a few transfer waivers, and the hope is that Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John’s from Auburn to be closer to his ailing mother, will be deemed eligible to play this season.
Originally from Connecticut, the 6’5” slashing wing committed in late May — and was hoping for a medical hardship waiver. Off the court, he will be able to see his family in Connecticut fairly quickly. He knew the staff from his high school recruitment; then-assistant coach Barry Rohrssen and head coach Chris Mullin recruited him heavily.
On the court, he will try to show an NBA-level form next to Shamorie Ponds. Both entered their names into the NBA Draft but withdrew after not being projected as first-round picks.
Heron, a five-star player coming out of high school and a star for Auburn, seems almost too good to be true for a Red Storm team in need of more scoring diversity alongside Shamorie Ponds.
To get to the heart of Heron’s game, we reached out to SonOfCrow a couple of months back, a writer from our Auburn friends at College and Magnolia, where the love for Heron is strong. Thanks to the College and Mag folks for talking about Heron, his attitude, and what he can do on the court.
Q: I want to get a better feel for Heron and his game; generally, how is the feel around him? How do Auburn fans feel about his departure? Does this seem strange?
Just to be clear straight away, Heron was my favorite player on Auburn last season. His toughness and willingness to attack the basket was something Auburn needed at times. He was the first 5-star signee in the history of Auburn basketball, and really opened the door for a lot of other guys to sign with Auburn. I am super bummed about him leaving, but a lot of Auburn fans were planning on him being gone since he declared for the draft. It is super weird that he is transferring, though, and I can’t imagine risking not getting a waiver and then missing a whole season when you are trying to impress pro scouts.
Q: How is Mustapha Heron’s defense?
He is an excellent defensive rebounder, and overall an elite rebounder at both ends. His freshman year, he led Auburn in rebounds per game. For a guard to do that is really impressive and speaks to his work ethic on the court.
Q: How does he function as a part of the team/ how’s his attitude?
His attitude is great from what I can tell; however late in the year he seemed more and more frustrated with his role or with the play of the team down the stretch. This was probably a product of him not getting any recognition on AP ALL-SEC lists or conference player of the year.
[Ed. note: this is seen in Auburn circles as a snub, one that may or may not be related to Bruce Pearl’s program’s involvement in that pesky federal investigation.]
For him to be the leading scorer on the conference champion and not get named First Team all conference was a bit of a slight, and his play suffered after that news broke. That is purely speculation, but the timelines match up.
Q: Has he developed at all? What does he need to improve?
He hasn’t developed a consistent catch-and-shoot three pointer. This, along with a lack of big box scores in big games, is probably why he wasn’t more highly regarded as a pro prospect. It’s my opinion that he would be a first round pick if this was 1998 and not 2018.
He plays an old school, physical, game on offense and bullies smaller guards. He showed up on campus with a full-grown man’s body, so that hasn’t developed but only because he had nowhere to go. I would have loved to see him take a big game over and put his stamp on it. That’s something he needs to work on. He has the talent to drop 30 on teams, but just never seemed to do it.
Q: What would someone who didn’t watch his games not know about how he plays?
He is a lefty and has a super quick first step to the basket. If you didn’t see him play last year, you will be surprised at just how easily he gets double doubles. You’ll look up and think he had a quiet night and Heron will have gone for 15 and 10.
Q: Is there any reason he would leave Auburn (friction with the coach, the FBI investigation if that’s still going on)?
I can’t think of any reason he would have left Auburn. His role would have been as a starter next year, but with him gone Auburn actually can shift a few guys into their more natural positions. I will miss him taking guys to the rack and throwing dunks down on people left and right. He was one of the only guys on the team who was not scared to put someone on a poster.
I’m sure there is some underlying reason to his exit, but I am at a loss. I will miss him on the team, and will probably watch a few St. Johns games if he gets cleared to play.