St. John's adds Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron on NCAA hardship waiver | Zagsblog
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Thursday / November 21.
  • St. John’s adds Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron on NCAA hardship waiver

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    After learning he had been granted a legislative relief waiver by the NCAA on Friday, Mustapha Heron let out a big sigh of relief.

    The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Auburn transfer will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season with the waiver, as first reported late Friday by ZAGSBLOG. He will take the floor with his teammates when St. John’s faces Rhode Island next week in a closed scrimmage.

    “It feels good, it definitely feels like a weight has been released,” Heron said Saturday by phone. “I’ve been practicing with the team as if I was cleared to play since the summertime, so I’m glad to finally know that I’m practicing and I’ll be able to play in competition and compete with the guys. We’re excited to have a good season this year.”

    Heron said the goal is to make the first NCAA Tournament appearance under coach Chris Mullin and make a run.

    “Oh definitely, that’s definitely the goal is to get to the tournament and try to make a deep run, just prove that we belong,” he said. “I think a lot of people are sleeping on us right now, but just proving that we belong.”

    Heron was granted the waiver because his mother, Thalia Heron, suffered a massive concussion. She lives in West Haven, Conn. Heron said Saturday by phone his mother is doing “a lot better” and may be able to attend some St. John’s games.

    “Hopefully she’ll be able to come to some games,” he said. “It just depends on how loud the arena is and stuff.”

    ZAGSBLOG first reported last month that Heron was close to obtaining the waiver.

    Heron should provide a massive boost to Mullin’s club entering the coach’s fourth season at the helm of his alma mater. The former St. John’s star is 38-60 in three seasons at the Big East School, and 12-42 in league play. The Red Storm is expected to be a force in a somewhat down Big East this year.

    “We’re very grateful for the NCAA’s decision to grant Mustapha a legislative relief waiver,” Mullin said in a statement released after ZAGSBLOG broke the news.  “It is important for Mustapha to be close to his family during this difficult time, so providing him the opportunity to play immediately will be a great benefit as he continues to pursue his personal goals. Mustapha is a high-character young man with loads of talent who will now be able to showcase it on the highest stage.”

    The NCAA is not permitted to comment on the situation until a decision is rendered, but an NCAA source said then, “It’s that time of year, so a decision should be imminent.”

    The Waterbury, Conn., native received Second Team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press as a sophomore after averaging 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.9 assists per game in 32 appearances, all of which were starts, for the Tigers.  Just the fifth player in Auburn history to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau in his first two seasons, Heron finished sixth in the SEC in scoring thanks to eight 20-plus point scoring performances and 29 outings in double figures.  Heron, who poured in a career-high 31 points against Winthrop on Nov. 24, led the Tigers to their third SEC Regular Season Championship in program history.

    The former consensus five-star prospect, Heron was ranked as high as 17th nationally by recruiting services coming out of Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury, Conn.  A three-time all-state selection who led Sacred Heart to three-straight state titles and a 54-game winning streak, Heron averaged 30 points and eight rebounds per game as a senior in 2015-16.

    Heron was also a standout on the AAU circuit, playing with New York RENS prior to enrolling at Auburn.

    During his time with the Rens, he helped initiate a program where the RENS wore an orange patch on their uniforms to promote awareness of gun violence. Now all teams in the Nike EYBL wear the patch.

    Heron joins a cast of newcomers at St. John’s that also includes incoming freshmen Greg Williams Jr., Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington, as well as transfers David Caraher, LJ Figueroa and Eli Wright. The Johnnies return a core group of veterans for 2018-19 that were the team’s top three scorers a season ago in First Team All-Big East selection Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon.

    Ponds could be the Preseason Big East Player of the Year when the announcements are made.

    “I think we can be really good as a backcourt,” Heron said. “I think that overall as a whole team, just as a unit, we got a lot of pieces. We will be an explosive team, I think, definitely a fast-paced team. From top to bottom our roster is going to be really good.”

    Heron anticipates playing a small-ball lineup.

    “We’re going to be pretty small so we’ll play a lot of small-ball,” he said. “I’ll be pretty much all over the floor doing different things. Coaches told me just try to do a little bit of everything and play the right way. We’re going to push the ball, we’re going to be a fast-paced team.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.