AMES — Abdel Nader emerged from the locker room and smiled.
In one week he’d be sharing the court with his 14th-ranked Iowa State teammates — the guys who dispatched a dangerous Georgia State team 81-58 Monday night at Hilton Coliseum — and three words came to mind.
“Long time coming,” Nader said after the game with a smile.
Nader and Matt Thomas have now served their three-game suspensions stemming from offseason OWI arrests. They’ve said their mea culpas. They’ve earnestly expressed their regrets and vowed to learn from their errors in judgment.
Now it’s time to ball — beginning with Monday’s 8:30 p.m. CBE Hall of Fame Classic showdown with Alabama at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“It’s going to mean the world,” said Nader, a long, lean and spry guard/forward who transferred in last season from Northern Illinois. “I transferred last year thinking I was going to be able to play right away, but it’s all right. Me and the guys have great chemistry. It’s going to be great to be out there. I’m excited. My adrenaline’s pumping.”
Both Nader (6-6, 230) and Thomas (6-4, 195) figure to be among ISU’s top eight players as Coach Fred Hoiberg works toward cementing a regular rotation that could go as many as 10-deep as the non-conference season unfolds.
It will be a challenging task, but the wealth of talent vying for minutes should make it a fun one — and CBSSports.com college basketball insider Jon Rothstein tweeted as much after Monday’s game: “Iowa State beats Georgia State by 23 w-o 3 of its top 8 players. People better watch out when the Cyclones add McKay, Nader, + Thomas,” Rothstein typed.
McKay — as in 6-9 Marquette transfer Jameel McKay — becomes eligible Dec. 20.
Nader and Thomas look to contribute immediately and will try to crack a starting five that shined after a sluggish start against the Panthers.
How does Hoiberg plan to work them in? By feel, as usual.
“It’s going to be depending on how the game is going,” Hoiberg said. “I’m excited to get those two guys out there. They’re two of our better shooters. We’ll see some zone against Alabama when we play them in that first game in the CBE Classic next Monday. I know our guys are excited to have them back and I am as well.”
Point guard Monte Morris, who starred Monday with 19 points, nine assists and zero turnovers, said Nader and Thomas joining the rotation will be “big time.”
“Matt is a great shot,” Morris said. “Abdel is like Georges (Niang). He can stretch the floor and shoot it from deep and he’s more athletic than Georges. So that’s going to help us out. We’re going to be deeper. We’ll be ahrite.”
And then some.
Thomas, a sophomore guard who sank 44 3-pointers last season, said on media day his on-court demeanor will mirror everyone else’s.
“Everyone on this team shares the ball,” he said. “We all make the extra pass. We’re all going to contribute in some way.”
For Nader, that may be just about every way.
“My versatility is one of the aspects that probably sticks out most to me,” he said. “I can play multiple positions. I can score. I can defend. I can do a lot of things.”
In six days fans will finally see the many facets that he brings to the team.
And he probably won’t be the only guy smiling about it.
“It’s only positive,” sharpshooting guard Naz Long said. “(We’re) taking steps in the right direction.”