AMES — Iowa State star forward Georges Niang gleefully left his restrictive, but necessary boot behind more than a month ago.
“A great day,” said Niang, the standout 6-foot-7 junior who broke his right foot early in the Cyclones’ March run to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. “But it was an adjustment to learn how to run again and change what I was doing. It was a tough period, but I’m glad I’m at the end of the tough period rather than starting at the beginning.”
So Niang’s footloose, but far from fancy-free this summer. There’s work to do — one leaner, greener step at a time.
“I just feel that it’s a lifestyle change,” said Niang, who will healthfully hone his game in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball Big Man Skills Academy, Monday through Wednesday, at Union City, N.J. “I’m eating healthy, eating greens, vegetable, all that stuff.”
A more chiseled Niang scored 45 points in a YMCA Capital City League game Wednesday in West Des Moines. He shot 13 of 17 from 2-point range, but the numbers merely serve as signposts to what he hopes will produce greater March results, for him and the team.
And that’s true for the points and the pounds.
“I think I was more focused on the numbers on a scale rather than what I was putting in my body,” Niang said of his past approach to conditioning. “Last year, as long as the numbers on the scale were low, I felt like I could eat whatever, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
So while Niang’s foot healed up, he embraced his inner nutritionist. But did he dislike veggies before the lifestyle change?
“Yeah, I did,” said Niang, who scored 18 or more points in four of his last five games in the 2013-14 season. “But I’ve learned to love ’em now.”
Sort of — out of necessity.
Niang seeks to take full charge of controllable matters as the 2014-15 season approaches. He even plans to be a mentor to the 25 high school players who also will compete along with him and nine other top college big men this week.
Sort of — with a wink and a nod.
“I’m thinking more mentor, more bully type, pick on some of these little kids,” Niang said. “No, I think for sure. In high school I think I definitely looked up to some college kids so I’m sure going to try to be a role model.”
Niang’s moves, from baby hooks to surprisingly swift spin maneuvers, haven’t ossified as he was sidelined for a month and a half, either.
“Always working on new things and trying to change things up,” he said. “I feel like if you’re staying the same, someone else is passing you, so I’m always trying to work on my craft and do things differently all the time.”
what if ...
ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg said last month he’s thought frequently about what having Niang healthy for the Sweet 16 matchup with eventual NCAA champ Connecticut could have meant.
The coach, whose name came up with virtually every NBA coaching vacancy this spring, calls it “the what-if game,” but he steered clear of most of the other games as the tournament played out.
“I couldn’t watch more than small stretches of those games,” Hoiberg said at a Tailgate Tour stop in Newton. “I still haven’t watched our game against Connecticut. I don’t know if I ever will.”