By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- They'll be loading up the buses in Waterbury and hitting the road to see one of their favorite sons play college basketball this week.
Mustapha Heron, a champion in basketball and so much more, is back in his home state of Connecticut, playing for Auburn University, to be sure, and being close to where he and his father are known for a grade-school reading program that has energized many.
So impressive is Heron that he once addressed the Connecticut general assembly to thank state legislators for their support in the Waterbury area.
Heron returns home to play two games, against Oklahoma in Ucansville, Conn., at the Mohegan Sun; and UConn on Friday in Hartford. He's already played close to home, in New York, when Auburn played Boston College last week. This week he expects to see more family and friends.
"It means the world to me knowing that there is support from back home and everybody is still tuned in," Heron said. "I have a lot of people still talk to me about every game and people watch every game back at home. People were getting the SEC Network, paying for it out of their pockets just to watch me play. That means a lot."
Heron won three state championships at Sacred Heart in Waterbury and became Auburn's first five-star signee in basketball. He's averaging 16.1 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds per game in the beginning stages for his career. But his off-the-court work has won praise, too, from his reading program, to working with the police on a weapons buy-back program. Heron's AAU team wore orange emblems to make a statement against gun violence.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said he was happy to schedule games so fans could see Heron again.
"We'll have a lot of people from Waterbury, Connecticut, there, there will be a lot of people from Sacred Heart High School, because Mustapha was a leader of his school and he was a leader in his community," Pearl said.
Pearl said the trip will bring attention to the Mustapha Heron Reading Program, "something he and his father have been doing for years in the Waterbury and surrounding county areas."
"What 18-year old kid has his name on a reading program and has for several years? And what that has been is read a certain number of books and you get shoes and bags. They've had different sponsors. Under Armour has been a sponsor, I think Adidas has been a sponsor, whatever they can get their hands on as incentives for these young people. Mustapha's dad, Bryan, is in law enforcement, and he is a real role model and a real mentor in that community, and so he's certainly asked and put his son out front in that position to also use his standing as a student-athlete to be a role model and out front in that community."
Heron said he happily stepped in to help the reading program in Waterbury.
"The reading scores in the city were real low, so I wanted to be able to do something to motivate the kids to be able to read and write, and hopefully they take it and run with it. A lot of the kids get excited with the prizes and stuff, but hopefully in the future as they get older they'll just find reading and writing to be fun."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine