MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa. — I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived at the Roundhouse in Marshalltown on Sunday afternoon. Were people going to show up for what had been dubbed as the "Farewell Tour" for the basketball seniors from the Iowa state schools? What would the quality of basketball be like?
How many points would Georges Niang score?
The answer to my first question came quickly. The parking lot was packed and the only seats left in the gym were near the top of the bleachers. The line for Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas’ autographs stretch all the way across one of the baselines — and they weren’t even playing in the game.
“That was a ton of fun to just get out there in a laid back environment,” Niang said after Team Farewell’s not so surprising 154-100 win over the Sports Page All-Stars. “Really just play and have fun in front of fans that are used to seeing you in game mode and stuff like that. I thought that was really cool.”
I’m not going to lie and tell you that the quality of basketball was high. Nobody really should have expected it to be.
That doesn’t mean the game and the atmosphere weren’t fun though. Fans seemed to stay fairly engaged throughout while UNI’s Wes Washpun threw down dunk after dunk and Niang did Niang-like things. Niang’s jersey from the game even sold for $1,000 in a postgame auction.
Obviously, the competition wasn’t at the level of what Niang is facing over the coming months. He’s finished the process of interviewing prospective agents and expects to have a decision in the next few days.
He will begin the workout circuit and will most definitely be posed with tougher matchups than former Cyclone Jake Sullivan, who headlined the Sports Page All-Stars.
“I’ll sign with an agent here soon and figure out my schedule with classes,” Niang said. “Get out to where my agent is and start working out. Hopefully get invited to the combine and then from there you hit the ground running.”
Niang will be starting the process with slightly more wisdom than he might’ve had a week ago. First, he got the opportunity to pick Utah Jazz great Karl Malone’s mind while in California to accept the award named after “The Mailman," then former Cyclone, and head coach of Team Farewell, Marcus Fizer was able to offer Niang advice before Sunday’s game.
“I’m honestly speechless because I’ve never been just sitting around hall of famers like that,” Niang said about his trip to California. “Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Karl Malone, I was sort of star struck. I don’t know if you guys could tell I was nervous. I usually don’t get nervous.”
There were no signs of the nerves from Niang on Sunday. He was his usual self playing to the crowd despite the absence of Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader after flight issues kept them from getting back for the game.
I guess there’s always next year.
“Hopefully we continue to do this,” Niang said. “I’ll probably be on the other side now. Do I get to play against Naz and Matt next year? I’ll have to ask about that.”