CHICAGO — Georges Niang stood with his back to the wall in a long hallway inside United Center and reflected on his Iowa State career.
Niang did his best to keep his raw emotions in check as he answered each question from reporters with a steady voice. It was as though he was at peace with how his career ended.
Appearing to be at peace and being completely at peace are not one in the same, though.
“I don’t know if I am (at peace),” Niang said as he became teary-eyed. “I just don’t want to get too emotional because like I said, it should be a happy moment for me that all this happened.
“There is so much great that came out of a decision at a small point in time when I made the decision to come here. If I could rewind time, definitely like Coach (Fred) Hoiberg said, I would enjoy it.
“At the end, I definitely want to thank Coach Hoiberg for being one of the only guys at this level to believe in me. The door he opened for me is huge to have more opportunities in life in anything I do. He opened the door to his home, which I eventually turned into my own home. I forever thank him for that.”
For Niang to find solace with his career ending in 4-seed Iowa State’s 84-71 loss to 1-seed Virginia certainly would be difficult in the moment — despite a 30-point performance — but his time with the Cyclones also produced a lot of high points for the program.
Niang was the first ISU player to go to four-straight NCAA tournaments — including two Sweet 16s — was the first two-time All-American for the program and finished his career second on the all-time ISU scoring list with 2,228 points. He was also a two-time All-Big 12 First Team pick.
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Listing some of Niang’s numbers and accolades are one way to look at his career, but his intangibles as a teammate is what leaves a lasting impression on the guys in the locker room.
“Words can’t really describe it,” said junior Matt Thomas. “He’s the fiercest competitor I’ve ever played with. He loves to win. Works his ass off, gets in the gym. He’s the leader in the locker room. I’m going to miss playing with him.”
Iowa State had its fifth-straight 20-win season that included home wins against Iowa, top-five ranked Kansas and No. 1 Oklahoma — the first win against a No. 1 team since 1957 — but were handed eight losses by seven points or less in coach Steve Prohm’s first year.
“Everybody stuck together and stayed the course and that’s why — their character — we were in the Sweet 16,” Prohm said. “I thanked (the seniors) and told them I’m here for them. My goal and these underclassmen’s goal is to keep Iowa State basketball relevant on the national scene.”
Seniors Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader only played the last two years, but Niang leaves Iowa State as the career leader in games played (138) and most wins (98). Since 2013-14, the Cyclones have been ranked in the top-25 of the AP Poll for a school-record 56 weeks — which is third only behind Kansas and Arizona.
“The last three years these dudes have become like my brothers,” said senior Jameel McKay. “I’ve spent more time with them than I’ve spent with my newborn nephew, my mom so I’ll remember that the most. Right now it hurts, but down the road when we look back we’ll realize we did something special.”
Iowa State will likely have Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton return as the main cogs next season along with transfer Nick Weiler-Babb — as well as two junior college players in Emmanuel Malou and Donovan Jackson — but the Niang-led era that symbolized a resurgence in the program officially came to a close.
“These memories these guys have given me over the years,” Niang said, “it’ll feel like my jersey will be on for a lifetime.”
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