KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Georges Niang looked in the mirror, then grabbed a writing implement.
The Iowa State star forward wanted to create a motivational passage he’d view multiple times daily — but didn’t wish to incur any fine for defacing his apartment.
Smart senior All-American move. So Niang gripped a ChapStick and scrawled away:
“To go places you’ve never been, you need to do things you’ve never done.”
Where’s the message applied first? The realm of rebounding, where Niang feels he must improve markedly in order for the consensus preseason top-10 Cyclones to reach their tripartite championship goals.
“I think rebounding is the biggest thing because obviously Jameel (McKay) is a great rebounder and he does everything from score on the block, catch alley oops, to defensive rebounding, to guard the other team’s best forward,” said Niang, who averaged a career-best 5.4 boards per game last season. “I feel like if I can help him out just half as much as he does our team will be better off. I’ll be better off and it will just be a psotive for our group.”
McKay — who ISU coach Steve Prohm believes can be a double-digit rebounder consistently this season — noticed Niang’s lip balm-based axiom while visiting his place.
Needless to say the Big 12’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year liked it.
“I think that was big time,” said McKay, who averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25 games last season. “I know Georges wants to rebound. You can tell he wants to rebound and I think he can.”
For Niang, it’s not a matter of “can,” but “will.” He settled on the mirror message idea after a summer talk with former Boston area star Chris Herren, whose journey from drug addiction to recovery was chronicled in the lauded ESPN documentary, “Unguarded.”
“When he was saying he was going through his drug addiction he said, ‘I couldn’t live with myself. I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror,’ Niang recalled. “And I realized that’s deep because usually people wake up and they brush their teeth in the mirror, they wash their face in the mirror. Before they go to bed, they brush their teeth and wash their face. So I looked at it as, if I can look at that quote and wake up every morning and realize, all right, what am I going to do to sacrifice to get my team to places they’ve never been — to get to myself to places I’ve never been? And then when I go to bed at night, ask myself, Did I make enough sacrifices today to achieve my goal. That’s the biggest thing, is if I can just see that as much as possible and look at that and just be reminded constantly that is is what you’re here for. This is what you set out to do.”
Rebounding. Winning. Championships — all the way to the top, no first round stumbles along the way.
“I really need to be that guy that’s aggressive and goes to the glass to get us extra opportunities on offense or really seals defensive possessions with defensive rebounds,” Niang said. “A lot of game are won on the glass. As you get older you start to realize points aren’t the only things that matter.”
NAZ’S PROGRESS “AWESOME”
Naz Mitrou-Long was encouraged by his effort in last Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage and again said he remains on track to be healthy for the Nov. 13 season opener against Colorado.
“I think I played pretty well,” Mitrou-Long said.
His roommate Niang begged to differ.
“He’s been looking great,” Niang said. “We had a scrimmage Saturday, intrasquad, and he looked awesome. He was shooting the ball, getting to the rim, really playing at a high level .That speaks volumes for Naz and how hard he works to come off that double hip surgery and be back and battling every day. His intensity in practice is awesome and he’s really elevating everybody’s play.”
Mitrou-Long nailed 77 3-pointers last season, even as his hips began acting up late in the season.
He wants to remain cautiously optimistic about his recovery — and noted that all the extra running in the world can’t fully prepare you for game speed.
“We’re going to just take it a game at a time,” Long said. “I know we have a scrimmage here against Tulane in the next couple weeks so that’s going to be huge as well.”
A NOD TO HILTON
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger didn’t need reminder about what a difficult Hilton Coliseum is to play in.
I did it anyway.
Kruger — whose loaded Sooners are picked by league coaches to finish second, one spot ahead of ISU — called it “one of the best.”
“The fans are into it,” the veteran coach said. “Last year, our game up there might have been as good an example of how effective they are, because I don’t think Iowa State could have come back at our place, from whatever, 21-down, in the second half. Iowa State was very good, but that crowd really helped them do that. Which is what a crowd is for — it’s how you measure crowds. I think they’re one of the best. Clearly one of the best and that game demonstrated that for sure.”
Good news from Jameel McKay: He plans to up his shot-blocking game.
That’s hard to do, since McKay’s 2.4 blocks per game last season ranked third all-time in ISU annals.
He said his biggest gains will come through technique. There’s more to swatting away a shot than raw athletic ability and instinct.
“I think the biggest thing is picking and choosing when to block shots,” McKay said. “I’m learning. I learned it over the (last half of) last year and feel like I was improving. This year, coach always tells me, ‘If you think you can get it, then go get it. If not, keep yourself in situations to rebound the basketball because I’m going to need to do that better this year as well.”
OH, WHAT ABOUT KANSAS?
Jayhawks coach Bill Self said he was “excited” to embark on the defense of his team’s stunning 11th straight regular season Big 12 title.
“It should be a fun time,” Self said. “We’ve got a group of competitive guys, quite a bit of balance. It will be an unbelievable league again, just like it has been. Maybe as good this year as it’s ever been.”
The Cyclones were picked to finish third by coaches, but received Self’s first-place vote.
ISU coach Steve Prohm laughed when he heard of Self’s selection.
“That’s our goal,” Prohm said. “Our goal obviously is first to win a Big 12 regular season title. That would be great really for these seniors first and foremost beyond anything else, because going through the transition — losing their coach, getting a new coach going into their senior year, you’d feel like you played a small part in helping them reach a huge, huge achievement in their life. But to do that it takes a daily effort to being great. That’s why I always say, ‘Win the day,’ and ‘Max out your job.’ We’ve got to do that day in day out, all the way up to March.”