Back about 18 months ago, before Mustapha Heron had generated much in the way of grassroots buzz, the powerful wing committed to Pittsburgh. The Panthers have recruited very well in the Northeast over the years, and they enjoyed the benefit of familiarity — Heron’s father, Bryan, played professionally overseas with then-Pitt assistant Barry “Slice” Rohrssen.
He hit the road with New Heights that 2014 spring and began to earn widespread acclaim. Heron quickly established himself an athletic force and potent wing scorer in the rising junior class.
Rohrssen left during that timeframe for an assistant’s position at Kentucky, but initially Heron remained committed to Pittsburgh. He built on his momentum and earned a lofty national ranking that he carried forward into this year.
Heron competed with the N.Y. Rens this past spring and summer, showcasing his abilities on the Adidas Uprising circuit. He performed well generally but truly stepped up to close out July in Las Vegas. Over four days of action he averaged 27 points and seven rebounds per game against elite competition, shooting 54 percent from the field.
Along he way he backed off his pledge to Pitt and reopened his recruitment. Rohrssen also made another move, the time to work with Chris Mullin at St. John’s. The Red Storm were perceived by many to be the frontrunner, but Auburn came on strong and won out to earn a momentous triumph.
A southpaw, Heron unquestionably is one of the strongest and most aggressive wings in the country. His rebounding totals would indicate that fact on their own, as the 6-5 forward competes much bigger than his actual height.
He’s also a terrific run/jump athlete. Heron boasts an explosive first step and, combined with powerful shoulders, is very difficult to disrupt once he has set upon a driving line with a head of steam.
He has improved his ballhandling significantly over the past year, explaining in part his substantially increased production. Like any good Northeastern product he always wielded an effective crossover, but now he dribbles better in halfcourt settings versus pressure.
Heron also is a gifted mid-range shooter. He can pull up effectively anywhere from 12-18 feet and knock down shots with reasonable consistency. Because he’s so strong and athletic, opponents frequently concede those attempts — affording him very clean looks at the rim.
His passing also is impressive. Heron sees the floor and may be a bull on drives, but he doesn’t always see red and ignore his surroundings. He finds open shooters and big men for high percentage shots.
He projects as a tough defender as well who can lock up opposing wings and bother frontcourt scorers as a weakside helper. Expect Heron to rip away a lot of attempted shots as big men attempt to score with their backs to the basket.
Three-point shooting stands out in this category. Even as well as he played in Vegas, Heron shot just 27 percent on threes. He averaged more than three long-range attempts per game as well, so he brought down his efficiency considerably as a result. (This also underscores how devastating he was from two-point range.)
Heron possesses good touch — he buried nearly 80 percent of his Vegas free throws — but shoots a flat, heavy ball from three. He’ll need to get more lift and rotation on his shot to effectively expand his range for the longer term.
Beyond that, all powerful high school players must confirm that they can retain effectiveness as their peers close the gap in terms of strength. Heron always will enjoy a relative strength edge, but not to the extent he does now.
Because he’s slightly rigid through his hips — think fullback, more than a tailback — he’ll need his jump shot in order to soften up defenders and command their respect, rather than allowing them to play him for a straight-line drive.
Heron projects as an immediate starter and meaningful scorer for the Tigers. His overall talent and college-ready body will ease his transition to that level immensely, and he could arise as one of the SEC’s best freshmen.
Interestingly, despite his gifts and reputation, Heron actually may need a second year of college before exiting for the NBA. Depending on how quickly he can improve his three-point shot, professional scouts may desire to see him add more balance before committing a high draft pick.
By no means am I suggesting that Heron will play more than year at Auburn, but unlike most elite prospects there appears to at least be a possibility.
Regardless of his campus tenure’s duration, Heron already has boosted the program’s profile and will provide a major benefit on the court as well. The Tigers’ loquacious head coach said he would deliver star players, and he is accomplishing exactly that.