By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Mustapha Heron might play two positions for Auburn’s basketball team when the Tigers travel to Italy: guard and guide.
Heron’s been there before. As a high school junior, he played for the U18 U.S. Select Team in Treviso, Italy, going 3-0 against a European All-Star team and teams from Greece and France.
“I’m just looking forward to a great experience,” said Heron, who earned Freshman All-SEC honors after averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds last season. “I would like to be able to show my teammates some of what I’ve seen.”
Departing on Sunday, Auburn’s 11-day journey includes games in Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice against professional and amateur players from Italy and Lithuania.
“The basketball over there is different,” Heron said. “It’s a more skilled game. They’ll be older. They’ll be pros. Their experience alone, I think we’ll learn a lot from them.”
Okeke wants to see how the European style of basketball differs from America. Mitchell’s mission concerns mealtime.
“I’m looking forward to all of the different foods,” he said.
Auburn’s itinerary will allow time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Roman Colosseum, and that’s just the first three days.
“It’s an unbelievable experience for these kids,’” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We’re so blessed that Auburn is allowing us to go and sending us and investing in the education as well as the basketball.
“We’re going to represent our country, we’re going to represent our school. We’re going to tour on days of games. We’re going to go to children’s hospitals. I want them exposed to as much as I can possibly expose them to.”
Then there’s the competition. A chance for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations to test itself against more seasoned players.
“My mindset going into the Italy trip and the season overall is trying to be a leader for the program,” Heron said. “We’re trying to do big things. Trying to make the tournament this year. Try to be as much of a leader as possible.”
The combination of basketball and bonding, along with a chance to see some of the world’s most famous destinations and works of art, makes for an enriching opportunity, Pearl says.
“Being able to travel overseas with teams has been one of the highlights of my life, my career,” Pearl said. “Both with my own family as well as these kids. Whether it be going to the Vatican in Rome, or whether it be going to Auschwitz in Poland.
“We’ll play, but our goal is to go over there and just have a great experience, an educational experience and a bonding experience.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) August 4, 2017
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) July 27, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer