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TOPIC: Dynamic Duo of Heron & Figueroa

Dynamic Duo of Heron & Figueroa 7 months 5 days ago #361064

  • Paultzman
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Roommates Heron, Figueroa Take Leadership Reins At St. John’s

Oct. 28, 2019 Men's Basketball
Special to BIGEAST.com

Mustapha Heron and L.J. Figueroa are the best of friends. Close teammates, the perfect roommates, the whole nine yards. And that all works for Heron, especially the roommate part. But not so much for Figueroa.

It all stems from the St. John’s duo’s days at the Pan Am Games this past summer in Peru. Heron was a key cog on the American team that won the bronze medal with a victory over the Dominican Republic’s national team. Figueroa’s problem was that he was a part of that Dominican team. Heron received a medal. Figueroa did not. And now he has to see that medal - and listen to Heron - everyday since.

“I didn’t hang it up or on the wall anything but I know it’s driving him crazy,” Heron said laughing. “But that was a great experience for both of us. He got to play on a team full of pros and it was definitely a good experience for me to play against those older guys, guys who were playing in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. To be able to learn from those guys, living in the same quarters as them and just talking to guys from all over the world, that was a great experience.”

Figueroa just rolled his eyes and shook his head when asked about Heron and his Pan Am jewelry. But like his roommate, he found the experience invaluable in terms of both bonding with Heron and his personal growth as a player.

“That trip definitely brought us a lot closer,” Figueroa said. “Just being in Peru with him and playing against him and scrimmaging against him was a great experience. I feel like we both learned a lot and we can both help each other in our games. It was a very exciting summer and I got a lot of experience. So I’m going to bring it back here and teach the young guys.”

And there will be no shortage of eager young players on the Johnnies’ roster eager to pick Figueroa’s brain. The term “turnover” took on a whole new meaning for St. John’s this season as the Red Storm not only saw Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon depart, but also head coach Chris Mullin and his staff. The Johnnies replaced Mullin with former UAB, Missouri and Arkansas coach Mike Anderson. Replacing the players is a cast of transfers and freshmen that Heron thinks are going to open a lot of eyes in the conference this season.

“I think we got a lot of surprises,” said Heron, who averaged 14.6 points last season and was a preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team pick this year. “The two biggest ones right now are probably Josh Roberts and Julian Champagnie. Julian just knows how to play basketball. He has a nose for the ball on both ends of the floor. He rebounds and he plays hard. He’s going to be pretty good for us. But I love this team. I think this team is going to be pretty good. I think we’re going to play with a lot of enthusiasm, play with effort, play with energy and passion. I think it’s going to be a very competitive team.”

League coaches were not as optimistic as Heron was, picking the Johnnies to finish ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll. But that just serves as motivation for Heron to make St. John’s a surprise player in the conference this season, which will be Heron’s last.

“The fact that some people didn’t think we’re in the top half of the conference definitely is a motivating factor,” Heron said. “But I think we were kind of inconsistent last year so where they ranked us is kind of showing what we put out last year. So we can’t really be too mad at that. We just have to go out and change the narrative.”

Heron and Figueroa will be the foundation around which Anderson will look to build his first St. John’s team. The 6-7 Champagnie, out of Brooklyn powerhouse Bishop Loughlin High School, should be an immediate contributor as should Monmouth transfer Nick Rutherford at point guard. But a lot of questions remain.

One thing skeptics should be reminded of is the fact that Anderson has never posted a losing season as a head coach in his career. Ever. And has led all three programs he previously headed to multiple NCAA trips while employing the “40 minutes of hell” style of play which he learned from his mentor, former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson.

And it’s that style of play that both Heron and Figueroa think will translate into wins for the Johnnies this season.

“I love coach’s style,” Heron said. “I’m a competitor. I like to get in your face and he likes to get in your face so it’s going to be fun.”

“I’m definitely a fan for coach’s style,” Figueroa said. “It’s very fun and rewarding.”

And while neither Heron nor Figueroa would venture a prediction as far as win totals this season, both promised a fun, entertaining, workaholic team that will be a handful for BIG EAST opponents this season.

“Fans can expect that I’m going to play hard every night,” Heron said. “I’m going to lead and do my best to get us in the win column every night and we’re all going to do that as a team. All the way from coach to the last man on the bench. Expectations on the inside are always high and I think we’ll surprise everyone in the conference.”

“We’re working hard every day as a team,” said Figueroa, who like Heron was a preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection. “The BIG EAST is a great conference with a lot of great teams and our expectation is to win.”

It all starts for St. John’s on Nov. 6 when it hosts Mercer at Carnesecca Arena. In the meantime Heron will continue to prepare for what he hopes will be a memorable senior season - and continue to torture Figueroa with his bronze medal. Perhaps wearing it to practice on occasion?

“I don’t think so,” Heron said laughing.

That’s not exactly a no.

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Last edit: by Paultzman.

Dynamic Duo of Heron & Figueroa 7 months 5 days ago #361065

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A fabulous article! Thanks Paultz.
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Dynamic Duo of Heron & Figueroa 7 months 5 days ago #361071

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Easy to root for.

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