Sixteen sweet nuggets from Madison Square Garden


NEW YORK CITY — Thursday was a bit of a whirlwind at Madison Square Garden in preparation for Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup between Iowa State and UConn. There is A LOT to cover. Because of that, here are 16 brief, but important nuggets to take away regarding the game itself and also conversations that were had off the beaten path.

16 – Bill Raftery adores Johnny Orr

Two legendary broadcasters, Verne Lundquist (pxp) and Bill Raftery (color) will call Friday night’s game (6:27 p.m. tip) on TBS. Raftery, 70, recalled his memories of former Iowa State coach Johnny Orr who passed away earlier this season.

“Johnny was more of, I want to say, more of a showman, I thought,” Raftery said. “I loved “Here comes Johnny.” … I think Fred has a lot of his traits, but they are more subdued and under control. He’s got a good sense of honor, whereas Johnny manifests it, and is more open about it — that would be my analysis anyhow, God bless him. I did some shows with him as the years went on at the NCAA. I’d just hand him the mic. It was just, ‘Let him go.’ He was always right on top of his game.”

15 – Jamie Pollard won’t talk about Fred Hoiberg’s contract 

Local central Iowa reporters caught up with Iowa State’s athletics director Jamie Pollard during the Cyclone shoot around at Madison Square Garden. Of course, Fred Hoiberg’s contract was brought up.

“Those discussions will be had internally and they won’t be public discussions,” Pollard said.

After Iowa State won the Big 12 Tournament Championship and has now advanced to the Sweet 16, talk of Hoiberg getting some sort of a raise has been prominent in central Iowa. So has chatter of Hoiberg possibly making a jump to the NBA at some point in his coaching career.

“I’ve said from the git-go that the NBA and college are two separate things,” Pollard said. “The day Fred — if and when he ever wants to do that, he’ll go do it. And it won’t matter what anybody is paying. That’s not my sense of Fred’s value system. It’s either going to be, ‘I want to go do it, or I don’t want to go do it.’ In the meantime, as long as he wants to be the Iowa State coach, we’re going to continue to do whatever we can to be able to treat him fairly.”

My take: Reporters have a job to do and asking these questions is part of it. I understand and respect that. But for fans, just enjoy the ride. Hoiberg looks like a happy man who doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon. 

14 – Fred Hoiberg won’t talk about the NBA

He was asked about it a handful of times on Thursday.

“I don’t even pay attention to it,” Hoiberg said when asked about his name being brought up with NBA jobs. 

13 – Naz Long likes it when you call him “3Zus”

“It’s funny man,” Long said smiling from ear-to-ear. “It’s great. Just the fact that they (fans) come up with so much creative stuff like that. It just shows their support. I get a lot of tweets here and there about 3Zus. I laugh but it is great. I goes to show that they are behind me no matter what.”

12 – Think Pierre Jackson…

I asked the biggest hoops junkie on Iowa State’s roster, sophomore Georges Niang to compare UConn’s Shabazz Napier to somebody the Cyclones have seen in the Big 12…

“I would say he is more comparable to like a Pierre Jackson,” Niang said. “He can really come off of screens and shoot it. He can really create offense for himself. Deceivingly, he is smaller but he plays big. He can get to the rim and finish over bigger guys. He is a real talent and we are obviously going to have our hands full.”

11 – Niang good to go in 4-6 weeks

Speaking of Niang, the Massachusetts native had surgery on his broken foot (suffered in Iowa State’s NCAA Tournament game vs. N.C. Central) on Tuesday.

“I’m feeling good,” Niang said. “I’m getting back slowly but surely. It’s been one day but I’m feeling better.”

Niang and team doctor Vic Miller both told me that he should be up and running again in about 4-6 weeks.

10 – Shabazz Napier watches River Monsters

Shabazz Napier and I have something in common after all.

UConn didn’t make the NCAA Tournament last year. During his off time in March, Napier couldn’t stand to watch the Big Dance on TV. Instead…

“I was more into watching River Monsters, stuff like that,” Napier said. “I didn’t want to watch because I felt like if I did, I would be really aggravated or annoyed with it.”

If you’ve never taken it in before, River Monsters is a phenomenal show. Trust me, and Shabazz. 

9 – Dustin Hogue is under a lot of pressure

Another big storyline coming into the Sweet 16 has been Dustin Hogue coming home to New York City.

“The thing I worry about with Dustin is getting a chance to sleep,” Hoiberg said. “He is getting pulled in a million different directions.”

Hogue’s situation is a microcosm for Iowa State’s entire roster at this point in the season. 

“The thing that I told our guys was that you are going to hear from every long lost relative,” Hoiberg said. “You just have to find a way to shut all of this out and go out and focus on the game. We know that we came out here for a business trip.”

8 – Iowa State sold out its ticket allotment

Jamie Pollard: “We sold our allotment of 1,250 tickets, but I’m sure there’s more than that that are going to be here. It’s pretty neat, because this is not a cheap place to come, not an inexpensive place to come.”

7 – UConn’s crowd won’t intimidate the Cyclones

While each school was allotted 1,250 tickets for Friday’s session, don’t think for a second that UConn won’t have a major advantage when it comes to fans in MSG due to the university’s proximity to New York City. Naz Long said that this will not intimidate the Cyclones.

“I feel like that just makes it a better atmosphere,” Long said. “It is going to be great in Madison Square Garden. UConn has a great support system and a great fan base. That just makes the game much more exciting.” 

Hoiberg on the crowd factor…

“I think our guys are mentally tough enough. We’ve played in some very hostile environments this year. You just have to go out and focus on the game plan and try to block everything else out.”

6 – Fred Hoiberg has roots in New York City

Something I did not know about Hoiberg…He has roots in New York City.

“I think a lot about my grandfather being out here this week,” Hoiberg said. “He grew up in Brooklyn. He played at St. Johns at the old Garden. This is where my roots are. I used to take a couple of trips out here to see my mother’s side of the family. To be here, I know that my grandfather – a lot of people compare him to Coach Orr. There was a great article that I read yesterday about that, how Johnny took the legacy over from my grandfather. So to think of my grandfather and Coach Orr, I know that they are watching.”

5 – DeAndre Kane is confident

Well, we already knew this but I found the following quote quite telling: “Nobody worries me. I think we do a good enough of a job preparing for each and every one of those guys on that team. For us, we just focus on us and being ready. It’s what we do all year.” 

4 – Save your onions 

More from the great Bill Raftery, who said that he can’t just start chucking out his famous “onions” catchphrase early on Friday night.

“We try to save them for late in the game,” Raftery said.”With this team you’d be tired early. You’d be out of the vegetable market.”

3 – Mateen Cleaves has made a major impact on Monte Morris

The Mateen Cleaves/Monte Morris connection story is somewhat dated but something stood out to me while interviewing the former Spartan great on Thursday afternoon. I’ve noticed in the past how often Monte Morris brings up watching film. I asked Cleaves, Morris’ mentor, how Monte can improve in the offseason.

“The main thing is living in the film room and being able to learn on the fly,” Cleaves said. “That’s how your game starts going to the next level when you go in and watch film and correct stuff the next day and make adjustments. That’s what I’m on him about.”

Ah hah. This is where Monte got it from.

“The film don’t lie,” Morris said. “He (Cleaves) told me that’s how he was able to take his game to the next level. Not even putting in work on his game as much, it was more film. He said that the greats do it. Peyton Manning always talks about film. When you watch film, you can peak out what’s coming and get the rhythm of the guy you are guarding and what they like to get into and how many dribbles.”

2 – Melvin Ejim isn’t worried about the pros

I’m not sure why this question was asked in the first place, but Melvin Ejim was asked about how pro scouts view him, mainly because of his age.

“Right now I’m just worried about Connecticut,” Ejim said. “We’re just worried about this next game, trying to go as far as we can in this tournament. Once it comes in that next point, then I’ll start worrying about what GMs are thinking.”

1 – DeAndre Kane is tired of the media

And to a point, I can’t say that I blame him. When Kane entered Iowa State’s locker room interview session Thursday, he jokingly pulled his jacket over his head to "hide" from reporters. Everybody had a good laugh.