Sacred Heart Basketball In Rarified Air

                                                          By John Murray

Sacred Heart High School star Mustapha Heron drove to the rim Saturday night against Foothills Christian at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts. 55 teams from 20 states (and one team from Canada) participated in what is widely known as the top high school event in America. The classic featured many of the top teams and recruits in the land. Unbeaten Sacred Heart, the #1 team in Connecticut, gave the #5 ranked team in the United States a scare, but fell 82-80, snapping a 40 game win streak.

Heart's guard Charles Fisher played clamp down defense on Foothills Christian, scored four points and had two steals.

The game featured two of the top rated players in America. Mustapha Heron has been rated one of the top 20 players and T.J. Leaf has been rated the 10th best recruit by ESPN. Heron has committed to play ball next year at Auburn, and Leaf, who is 6'10, 220 pounds, was recruited by Duke and Indiana and has committed to UCLA.

Heron is a strong 6'5" guard and covered Leaf in the paint for much of the game. Leaf is a highly skilled player who has terrific inside moves and was the most polished player on the court. Leaf scored 30 points (hitting 13 of his 18 shots), ripped down 11 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. In the second half the Hearts put their 6'8" forward Tyrn Flowers on Leaf and he used his lanky body to slow Leaf down.

Heart's sophomore Raheem Solomon played a solid game at guard scoring 15 points and dishing out 7 assists.

Charles Fisher and Mustapha Heron are used to running every Heart's game, but Foothills Christian High School played tremendous team defense and pressed and confused Sacred Heart for much of the first quarter, taking a 27-18 lead.

Hearts 6'9" forward John Riddick rips down one of his 10 rebounds. Riddick also scored 10 points.

Tyrn Flowers 3-point shooting, and his defense on T.J. Leaf allowed the Hearts to rally from a 19 point 3rd quarter deficit.

Sacred Heart guard Courie Stevenson swarmed Jaren Nafarrete to slow down the Foothills Christian attack. Stevenson had three clutch steals in the game.

T.J. Leaf, right, was the most fundamentally sound player in the game and displayed rare passion for a 6'10" big man in the  game's final minute when he nimbly dove to the floor to chase a loose ball. No one watching the game would be surprised to see Leaf playing in the NBA in a few years.

After hitting two clutch 3-point shots to tie the game, Mustapha Heron had a reach in foul against freshman guard Jaren Nafarrette with four seconds on the clock. The freshman calmly sank both free throws to give Foothills Christian an 82-80 lead.

Sacred Heart coach Jon Carroll reacted with shock as the referee called Heron for the late-game foul, but was thrilled with how his squad fought back from a 20-point deficit to have a chance to win the game on a final shot.

With four seconds left in the game Mustapha Heron drove to mid-court and launched an errant three-point shot. Heron was clearly the most physically talented player on the court and led all scorers with 31 points, and had 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Heron often tried to do too much by taking on all five players from Foothills Christian by himself. With 2.7 seconds left Heron had a wide open Tyrn Flowers on the left wing, but launched an improbable air ball to end the game. Heron is the reigning Player of the Year in Connecticut and is one of the most talented players to ever play in the Naugatuck Valley League. His future is white hot, and after the marquee match-up in Springfield, the Hearts dropped a game on Martin Luther King Day to Long Island Lutheran 73-72, at the Big Apple Tournament at Baruch College in New York City. In that game Heron scored 41 points, had 13 rebounds and was 12 for 12 from the foul line. Now it's back to playing NVL teams and resuming their quest for a third straight state championship.