CENTER POINT — The Center Point-Urbana All-Sports Booster Club learned something a couple years ago.
The club brought in former Coe College/NFL running back Fred Jackson to speak to CPU students two springs ago. Jane Dufoe, the vice president of the CPU Board of Education, said the kids still talk about Jackson’s visit and the messages he conveyed to them.
So on Thursday the boosters brought in Naz Mitrou-Long, the former Iowa State basketball standout who recently finished his second season in pro ball. Mitrou-Long had an informal talk with CPU basketball campers in the afternoon, then gave a 40-minute address that evening.
Over 600 people attended. It went well, to say the least.
“It was amazing,” said CPU boys’ basketball coach Mike Halac. “Naz did a great job talking to our community. He asked what we needed and how he could help out with the process.”
Mitrou-Long focused on selflessness, teamwork, togetherness in his talks.
He asked the kids what selflessness meant, and one said “When you care about others before yourself.”
“Perfect,” Mitrou-Long replied. “That is what I pride myself on entirely. It uplifts people. It makes people feel good about themselves. You never know what somebody else is going through, what’s happening in their day, what’s going on in their family.
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“Being a selfless individual is just a big picture. It’s bigger than yourself.”
Mitrou-Long came to Iowa State as a two-star recruit from Mississagua, Ontario, Canada, not exactly the center of the basketball world. Given it’s just outside Toronto, though, that may have changed since the Raptors are now the NBA champions.
Mitrou-Long went from being a lightly-used sub as a freshman to a second-team All-Big 12 player as a senior, totaling 280 3-pointers and 1,250 points, and playing for three Big 12 tournament title teams over his 131 games as a Cyclone.
“Ultimately,” he said, “I talk about people not understanding I wasn’t always a good basketball player.
“The main thing I tell them first and foremost is the influence my mother had on me. She allowed me to be who I am.”
He wasn’t picked in the 2017 NBA Draft and wasn’t viewed as a future NBA player by most, but was impressive in the 2017 NBA Summer League and hooked on with the Utah Jazz. He spent the 2017-18 season with Utah’s G-League team, and was on a two-way contract with the Jazz last season. He played most of the season with the G-League's Salt Lake City Stars, averaging 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists, but also was called up to play in 14 games with the Jazz.
“I think I had a couple of great years with Utah,” Mitrou-Long said. “I grew and developed in the G-League.”
He is in a period of professional uncertainty that will get resolved soon. Like so many other NBA players, he’ll become a free agent on July 1.
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“I will be playing in the Summer League this year,” he said. “With whom, it’s not defined yet. But I’m excited with whatever is next, whether it’s with the Jazz or somebody else.”
Between his two speaking stints here Thursday, Mitrou-Long got in a workout.
“Getting a lot of jumpers up, finishing at the rim, working on my craft,” he said.
Mitrou-Long told the kids he never eats fried food or fast food, favoring spinach, kale and mushrooms. Although, he admitted he’ll sneak in an occasional ice cream sundae.
In the shadows of sinking 3-pointers in games is his strength training, the repetition and time, the focus and discipline. There’s no magic to it, a good enough message in itself.
But this is a happy hooper, someone who says he wants his future after playing basketball to be working in basketball, as a coach or executive, helping others get where he’s gotten.
“Playing in the NBA is like everything you’ve dreamed at your age,” Mitrou-Long said. “It’s everything I dreamed of and more, that’s for sure.”
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