Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Mustapha Heron ready to lead St. John’s heading into senior season
By ADAM ZAGORIA
With Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark all gone from St. John’s, new coach Mike Anderson will rely on Mustapha Heron to be the team’s leader heading into his senior season.
“I’ve definitely known him from when we competed against each other in the SEC,” Heron said of Anderson by phone from Providence, where he’s training with the Pan Am Games team.
“And then as soon as he called me, he told me that me being the only senior on the team, I’m going to captain the ship. He said the team is going to go as far as I take it. I’ve said before, that’s not scoring all the points or making all the highlight plays, it’s just the little things, being responsible, being somebody that the younger guys can look up to, making sure all my stuff is together and making sure I’m doing all the right things.”
Heron, who averaged 14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds during an injury-plagued season last year, said he never considered leaving St. John’s after Chris Mullin left the program and was then replaced by Anderson, the former Arkansas and Missouri coach.
“No, no, I wasn’t graduating or anything, so I was sticking around no matter what,” Heron said.
Heron, who transferred into St. John’s from Auburn and then got a hardship waiver to play last season, battled tendonitis last year but says he’s fully healthy now.
“I was dealing with lower knee tendonitis and Achilles tendonitis,” he said. “It was frustrating but it’s something you gotta get right and you gotta get back on the court as fast as possible.”
As far as the 2019-20 season, he said the point guard duties have been split between Monmouth transfer Nick Rutherford, sophomore Greg Williams and freshman John McGriff.
“We got a lot of guards,” he said.
They return Heron and junior wing L.J. Figueroa, who opted to stay after considering transferring following a season in which he averaged 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds and is playing for the Dominican in the Pan Am Games. Transfers Eli Wright, David Caraher and Ian Steere are also expected to play big roles.
“I think people have us predicted like second-to-last in the conference,” Heron said. “The last time I was predicted last or second-to-last in the conference was when I was at Auburn, and we won the SEC championship. So that doesn’t really mean anything to me.
“We have a coach who’s going to go out and instill competition in our mind, and grit and grind. We’re going to grind on every possession, we’re going to defend. With that we’re going to win a lot of games. We have enough guys who can score the ball.”
As for the Pan Am Games, Heron is looking forward to going to Peru with his fellow Big East teammates. He’s already traveled to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Italy with other teams in the past.
“It’s good, we’ve all known each other or crossed paths, whether it’s in high school or playing against each other, so we all respect each other’s competitive nature,” Heron said.
“We’re looking forward to it. We’re just trying to represent ourselves and our country as best as we can.”
In the end, he believes the experience will help him grow as a leader for the Johnnies.
“I think just playing against the older pros when we go over there, trying to pick up a couple things from their games, and just the overall experience is going to be great for me when I get back,” he said.
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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.