By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – Mustapha Heron grew up less than 60 miles from the University of Connecticut campus. Admittedly, he says he grew up a Kentucky fan, but he was always going to Huskies’ games and spent a lot of time around the program.
So when Auburn traveled to UConn last year for a non-conference game, it was a homecoming of sorts for Heron, a true freshman at the time.
Heron got a chance to go see his old high school team play while Auburn was up there, and when it came time for the Tigers to play, he had all of his family, his former classmates, his old teachers, basically anybody and everybody that he grew up around, at the game.
“I felt like when they yelled my name for the starting lineups, I got more of a praise than the actual UConn players,” Heron said.
The former five-star prospect struggled from the field that day, but he still finished with 15 points and eight rebounds to help lead Auburn to a 70-67 win in overtime. And if you ask him now to recall what happened in that game, he just remembers that his team won. That’s what was most important – not how many points, rebounds or fans he had at the game.
On Saturday, Heron will get another chance to face the Huskies. He’ll have less fans at the game – it’s at Auburn Arena this year – but it’s still one he circled on the calendar.
“They’re a good team,” Heron said. “And then the fact that it’s UConn, it kind of means a little more to me.”
The Connecticut native should still receive plenty of praise from the home fans when his name is called in the starting lineups Saturday. This is a signature non-conference game for an Auburn team that improved to 10-1 following Tuesday’s 81-77 win at Murray State. The Tigers have won eight straight games and are knocking on the door of the AP Top 25.
The fast start to the season might have come as a surprise to some, but not Heron, who is currently second on the team with 15.9 points per game.
“This is something that we talked about all summer,” he said. “After the season was over last year, it was something that we talked about from there on.”
The next team standing in Auburn’s way? Heron’s hometown team.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: