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MILWAUKEE — Darkness fell across the sky and Naz Mitrou-Long still wasn’t home.
As a kid in Mississauga, Ontario, Mitrou-Long would stay out late at the local park playing basketball. His mother had no idea where he was, but that wasn’t his concern in the moment.
On those nights, Mitrou-Long felt like he was exactly where he should be.
That’s where his love of basketball blossomed. That love was nurtured as he grew up, and eventually help him understand basketball was more than X’s and O’s. It was a way to make a difference.
Whenever he hangs up his sneakers, Mitrou-Long said, he wants to be a college basketball coach.
“I want to do that to inspire the next generation and help others and help people because I’ve been helped and I don’t know where I’d be without that,” Mitrou-Long said.
There is still plenty of basketball in front of him, specifically No. 5 seed Iowa State’s matchup with No. 4 seed Purdue in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday (8:40 p.m., TBS). But Mitrou-Long has already been grooming himself for the future.
Mitrou-Long has stars all around him. Monte Morris and Deonte Burton are highlights waiting to happen. At 6-foot-4 and 203 pounds, Mitrou-Long became a 3-point specialist that has slowly involved into a guy who can get buckets at the rim.
His intangibles and charisma, though, are just as important for the Cyclones (24-10) as his 15.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
“He’s going to have opportunities to play for along time,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm. “I think the (graduate assistant) route next year for us is off the table. He’ll be a tremendous coach. Really a lot of my seniors would be.”
What makes Mitrou-Long different is the way he balances his interactions with his teammates. He’s intense, but lighthearted and demanding, but forgiving. He takes time, especially with the younger players to talk them through things.
In the second half of Iowa State’s first-round win against Nevada, freshman Solomon Young picked up a foul in the post. During the ensuing timeout Mitrou-Long walked to the bench, with his hand on his back, working through what just happened and how to be better out of the break.
“Use your strength,” Mitrou-Long said. “Body him up. Don’t lean into it.”
“He’s always excited,” Young said. “He probably gives us the most motivation on the team. He’s probably one of our best leaders. He has a lot of respect on the team. I think he’s a really good guy.”
Mitrou-Long has the instinct to be inclusive anyway, but it was instilled during his freshman year to keep everyone in the locker room engaged.
In his first year, Mitrou-Long played in 18 games and averaged 1.4 points while averaging 6.9 minutes. Frustration crept in, but was mitigated by the likes of seniors Korie Lucious, Will Clyburn, Anthony Booker and Chris Babb.
“It really had a lasting impact on me and my desire to be better,” Mitrou-Long said. “I know that when one of the young guys messes up, if you just let them be and not saying nothing, that’s when they should worry because maybe guys don’t care about them. But I do.”
He’s already gotten plenty of practice with Young, Jakolby Long and sophomore Nick Weiler-Babb, Chris’ brother. Seeing Mitrou-Long as a coach somewhere down the line is a natural fit.
“What Chris was to him, he is to me,” Weiler-Babb said. “He’s been a leader to me and been like a big brother to me so whatever Chris gave him, he’s giving me and I’m loving every minute of it.”
The Boilermakers (26-7) will test Iowa State’s veterans and rookies alike. Purdue has two bruisers around the block in Caleb Swanigan (6-9, 250) and Isaac Haas (7-2, 290). Size is an advantage, Purdue coach Matt Painter said, if it’s used in the right way.
Stylistically, Purdue and Iowa State match up well. They both rank in the top 25 in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency and top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The difference lies in personnel and way in which the teams execute the similar style.
“We’ve got to be able to use our size,” Painter said. “But we’ve also got to be able to use our brains.”
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