HAVERHILL, Mass. -- When Methuen native and Tilton (N.H.) forward Georges Niang committed to Iowa State last May, it turned a few heads -- some of them with an air of suspicion. Was he ready for the Big 12?
Then Niang hit the road with the Boston Amateur Basketball Club, and whatever dissidence was out there evaporated. Lauded for his throwback, physical style around the rim, the Methuen native isn't afraid to throw his elbows around, and takes pride in wearing down the opposition's top scoring threat. Together with fellow teammate and highly-suited center Nerlens Noel, the BABC were a dominant inside force during the Nike EYBL season, culminating with BABC director Leo Papile's first Peach Jam title in his eighth finals appearance, last month in North Augusta, S.C.
This week, Niang and New Hampton's Noah Vonleh were back home in the Merrimack Valley helping run the Elite Youth Players Camp, an annual youth basketball clinic put on by Utah Jazz scout Jeff Nelson at the Cedardale Athletic Club. Following this afternoon's session of the week-long camp, which ends Friday, Niang talked to ESPNBoston.com about his explosive summer, and the future.
Q: Going into the summer, what were some of your goals? What were you looking to accomplish?
A: "Going into the summer, my goals were definitely to win the Peach Jam, bring one home for Boston and definitely for Leo, giving him his first one at the Peach Jam. And to repeat for the Nationals with the 16's, since we didn't have enough guys to play for the 17's. But just, to win as many games as we could, and enjoy my last summer of AAU. I mean, I really did that with the guys. It was great spending time with them, and down at the houses in Florida. But winning the Peach Jam was definitely the highlight."
Q: What about personally, was there anything motivating you this summer?
A: "Definitely. There was a lot of stuff being thrown around, like, 'Oh, now that Georges committed, is he still going to put up the same kinda numbers that he did?' And I definitely wanted to show that I belonged in the Big 12, and that I belonged to Iowa State. Just by going out there and proving it every night against ranked guys, that was something that motivated me deep down."
Q: What do you think you've improved upon the most this summer?
A: "I think just my body, and always consistently playing well. That's definitely something I wanted going into the summer, just getting my body into the best shape I could, and consistently playing well at the top level."
Q: People sometimes talk about your game as unorthodox, because you don't fit a natural position, be it a three, four or five. But the one thing that does stick out is the way you take command on the boards. Is that something you take pride in? Is it a mentality?
A: "Oh yeah, definitely. Being the best you can be is something I strive for. Grabbing rebounds, looking for the ball down low, just doing what I got to do to stay on the floor. I feel like if you can be more versatile, you can stay on the floor as long as you want."
Q: As far as technique with boxing out, what is your strategy?
A: "I mean, I do have a big body, so you're putting your body on someone and just banging down low. That helps a lot. But strictly, I'm just finding the man -- usually, I try to find the more athletic kids, because beating down athletic guys, they really don't want to jump around the rim anymore, and that just makes rebounding that much easier."
Q: Who is the best player you faced this summer?
A: "In general, I have to give it to the Harrison twins [Aaron and Andrew, of Houston's Travis High]. They were tough, and they beat us [on national television, in the Super Showcase Final with Houston Defenders AAU]. But at my position, I'd definitely have to give it to Mitch McGary [of Brewster Academy]. Mitch McGary is tough to play against. He's strong, and he gets to the rim, and he's athletic."
Q: Should be a good matchup with Brewster this year, then?
A: "Yeah, we're going to beat them (laughs). We'll get them this year."
Q: You've won four straight NEPSAC titles at Tilton. What's motivating you to a fifth?
A: "To go out a winner, definitely. I don't want to go out a loser, I definitely want to end my high school career on a win. And not only that, we're looking for five in a row, but we're definitely going for a national championship. I definitely want to end my career on a national championship."
Q: You play year-round with Nerlens, Goodluck, and Wayne Selden. How is the chemistry?
A: "The chemistry is great. Sometimes, like anything else, we're like brothers, so we'll argue every now and then. But all of us love each other, we're never selfish or anything like that. It's just great, because you have someone to relate to who's at your level. These guys are in your classes, they live with you, so just being around them year round, getting to know them, they're friends for a lifetime, definitely."
Q: What are the places to be seen around Methuen? Any restaurants, hangouts?
A: "The Loop is the hangout. But...damn, I'll have to say Romano's Pizza. That's the spot. Sometimes I might get a calzone, but you know I like to mix it up with a chicken caesar salad -- make sure you tell Fred that one, too. No, but Romano's is a cool spot. And then sometimes the barber shop down in Methuen, Five Star Barber Shop, me and my boy Michael Gorman go there to get haircuts and just chill over there."
Q: You mentioned Fred Hoiberg. When did it hit you that Iowa State was the right place for you, and how did it feel when you made the call to Fred with your commitment?
A: "I knew after my visit, it felt right. I just wanted take my time and be sure. After my visit, he came up to visit three weeks in a row, as much as he could -- as in, him, himself, not his assistants. Coach came up and told me that he wanted me, always told me that he wanted me. I felt like it was the right spot. I think it was a Sunday, maybe May 15, I came home from Mike Gorman's house, and I was talking in the car. I was trying to get Fred on the phone with my mom, because I told my mom I think I'm ready to commit. So we talked to Rick Gorman, my old AAU coach, about it. I called Leo, called my high school coach, told all of them I was ready. And then I got Fred and my dad on the phone -- my dad was overseas, because he works in the Navy. After that, I called Fred back and told him I wanted to commit and come to Iowa State.
"And I mean, it's been the best ever since. Cyclone Nation has supported me to the fullest, and I can only love that, because that's where I'm going to be playing, and these are the people that are gonna be supporting me. I can't wait to get out to Ames."
Q: Your father is in the Navy. Is that where you get your discipline from?
A: "Yeah, definitely, definitely (laughs). He's hard on me, but he loves me, so you know, I love him to the fullest, too. My dad [Sidi Niang] moved here from Senegal when he was 18, he lived down at New Bedford and then my parents met at UMass Amherst."