Cyclone Hoop Stars Visit Scavo High Schoolers
Before the coming college basketball season runs its course a staggering amount of information will be written, tweeted, posted, televised, broadcast and rumored about the highly touted Iowa State men’s basketball team. A good share of it will be about Georges Niang, Naz Mitrou-Long and/or Matt Thomas. Virtually all of it will concern wins and losses; points and percentages; rebounds and turnovers. Virtually none of it will come straight from the hoopsters’ mouths, like the personal stories the players and one of their coaches at ISU, TJ Otzelberger, shared with Scavo students in the auditorium at Central Campus on Tuesday afternoon.
The contingent of Cyclones was visiting to preach the wisdom of Stay in to Win, a program under the auspices of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The point wasn’t basketball. It was education.
Coach Otzelberger’s parents didn’t go to college. Neither did Long’s and he didn’t figure to either, not the way he nonchalanted through his first two years of high school. Same thing with Niang. School? He could take it or leave it. As for Thomas, he told the Scavo students that his dad was an alcoholic and drug addict who committed suicide when Matt was in 5th grade.
The broader theme shared by all four of the guest speakers was the importance of education as a means to the end of whatever a person’s individual goals and dreams might be. But each of them had different points of emphasis.
Long talked about leaving home in Canada for the discipline of a prep school in Maryland where he became a self-described “grinder” who buckled down to earn the grades and SAT scores that would qualify him to accept the scholarship that Otzelberger and ISU dangled.
“I’ll tell you guys what. Nobody has ever regretted putting in hard work. It’s never not worth it,” Long said.
Niang grew up in Massachusetts playing in the shadow of some highly touted locals who went on to win national championships in college and earn shots at pro careers. He said that he began to notice that one thing successful people around him all seemed to have in common was devotion to a set routine that left little time for horsing around. His parents sent him to a boarding school for high school, one that held classes six days a week where Sunday visits home had to be earned in the classroom. Niang stressed the importance of surrounding oneself with high goal-setters. “Shoot for Mars,” he said. “If you only make it to the moon, that’s still pretty high.”
Thomas candidly recalled a mistake he made during the summer after his freshman year in college when he was charged with DUI. “I was abusing the freedom that comes with going off to college,” he said. “I learned the hard way the daily importance of making right decisions and now my life is focused on school, family and then basketball. It’s like Georges is always tweeting: ‘There’s no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.’”
Lest anyone think the trio is going through the motions educationally as a cover for majoring in basketball, all three are on track to graduate. Long will get a degree in Communications, Niang in Marketing and Thomas in Management. Yes, they all want to play as long as possible before “the ball stops bouncing,” as Niang put it. But each of them has ambitions beyond their playing days. Long and Thomas want to coach, like Otzelberger, and Niang has his eye on a career with a major athletic supplier such as Nike or Adidas.
During the Q&A there were some lighter moments. One admirer wondered where Long got his haircut. And a wise guy told them he felt he was owed the ten bucks he’d lost betting on ISU in a key game last year. Niang told him, “I’d give you the ten bucks if you would have listened to us instead of being on your phone so much.” Everyone, including the wise guy, got a kick out of that.
Even if you’re a Hawkeye fan they’re an easy bunch to root for – especially in a room with no balls or hoops.