Mustapha Heron had played in 95 college basketball games over the course of three years when he changed it all. Meat, gone. Dairy, gone. And 19 extra pounds, gone.
The St. John’s senior went to mandatory weight training and volunteered to do more. At one point, coach Mike Anderson had to remind him to put the weights down and go to class.
That level of drastic change at this juncture of a basketball career usually means one thing: Heron does not intend for this to be the end. And now the Red Storm are benefiting.
Heron put on a clinic Saturday at Carnesecca Arena at a road race disguised as a basketball game. Behind Anderson’s breakneck offense, he scored 30 points as St. John’s routed Central Connecticut State, 87-57. It was the Red Storm’s second win in as many games and their second blowout.
“He’s put the time in. I guarantee it,” Anderson said of Heron. “He’s one of those guys who’s determined . . . I’m sure he’s got goals, and the best thing about it is that his major goal right now is St. John’s being the best team it can be.”
So far, so good. St. John’s led for all but five seconds of the game and dominated in nearly every category.
Though the Blue Devils — 20-plus-point underdogs going in — managed to hang around for the first half, briefly going up 18-17 midway through the period, they faded quickly under the constant pressure. The Red Storm led 39-33 at the break and strung together a 20-0 run early in the second half.
The Red Storm scored 24 points on 21 turnovers, outrebounded the Blue Devils 43-34 and had 10 steals, three by Julian Champagnie. LJ Figueroa had 17 points and six rebounds. Central Connecticut shot only 15-for-30 from the line and 34 percent from the field.
“I think we found their breaking point” in the second half, Heron said. “It’s really just a matter of staying organized and just keep pressing the question.”
Champagnie had “probably his finest performance to date,” Anderson said. “Especially in the second half, it seemed like he was everywhere — protecting the rim, deflecting passes, covering the loose ball. He’s making good decisions.”
As for Heron, it’s no secret that, like the departed Shamorie Ponds, he’s looking to a future in the NBA. His 30 points were his career high with St. John’s (he scored 31 when he played for Auburn) and he shot 6-for-7 from three-point range.
After being hobbled by a knee injury last season, he said he finally feels fully healthy. It helps, too, that in his first season as St. John’s coach, Anderson has instituted a relentless pace of play, something that Heron said lends itself to his skill set.
“It’s a lot of motion,” he said. “I’m a pretty good catch-and-shoot player, so I can just find an open space.”
And then there’s all the other changes. The diet, the weight room, the healthy knee — all of it points to a man who wants to give himself the best possible chance of basketball life after college.
Heron has changed his mentality, too.
“I’m getting older and [I’m getting] more of a professional mentality . . . [a desire to] dominate the game,” he said. “You kind of know what to expect and prepare for what’s going to happen, so I think that’s the biggest thing that’s [changed] in the last couple years.”