Mustapha Heron, Auburn's leading scorer this past season, committed to St. John's Thursday evening and hopes to get hardship waiver to compete for Red Storm immediately. (Photo by Draft Express)
Any lingering doubts of St. John's ability to compete in the Big East Conference next season appear to have been put to rest over the past 48 hours.
The Red Storm and its rabid fan base have reached an apex on its proverbial roller coaster this week, receiving news Tuesday evening of Shamorie Ponds' decision to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to Queens for his junior season, and upped the ante two days later by securing the verbal commitment of Mustapha Heron after the Connecticut native announced his intent to transfer from Auburn.
"Family takes precedence over everything," Heron -- whose mother, Thalia, has experienced health issues that prompted the desire to transfer closer to his West Haven home -- told the New York Post's Zach Braziller Thursday. "I wanted to be able to find a way to be close to home and still be playing in a great conference. Hopefully I can come here and have a great career here."
A soon-to-be junior, Heron -- Auburn's leading scorer on a team that advanced to the round of 32 in this past March's NCAA Tournament -- took an official visit to St. John's shortly after declaring that he, too, would withdraw from the NBA Draft and depart Auburn. His commitment was merely a formality after that, as St. John's defeated UConn, Fairfield and Boston College to win the services of the slashing 6-foot-5 wing that averaged 16.4 points per game for Bruce Pearl and the Tigers en route to an improbable Southeastern Conference regular season championship.
Heron immediately enrolled in St. John's summer session, per Braziller, and will begin his first courses on Monday. The Red Storm staff intends to apply for a hardship waiver on his behalf in order for him to be immediately eligible for the 2018-19 season -- and will seek external legal assistance if necessary -- but the newest weapon in Chris Mullin's arsenal is content to be patient if fate decrees such.
"I'm not in any rush to be a professional," Heron told Braziller with regard to his status for the coming year. "Right now, the priority is finishing school and being there for my mom."
Initially recruited by then-associate head coach Barry Rohrssen before committing to Auburn, St. John's adds Heron to a backcourt that has become one of the deepest and most talented units not only in the Big East, but also the nation. In addition to Ponds, Justin Simon also returns for his junior season while former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon is eligible again after sitting out this past season following his transfer from Quinnipiac. Junior college newcomer L.J. Figueroa and sophomore Bryan Trimble will also compete for minutes alongside incoming freshman Greg Williams. Should Heron be able to play right away, the Red Storm could very well be a Top 25 program in the preseason polls, and a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender in a pivotal season for Mullin, his fourth at the helm.
"With the pieces we have," Heron told Braziller, "we definitely can be special."