Iowa State senior forward Georges Niang has been among the best -- and most entertaining -- players in college basketball for much of his NCAA career. In his senior season, Niang isn't leaving anything on the line. He's second in the Big 12 in points per game and ranks in the top 10 in 3-pointers, rebounds and minutes -- and this in a conference with six teams in the latest AP Top 25. Niang sat down with Jeff Goodman to talk about the players he admires most, as well as his own transformation at Iowa State.
You are the new commissioner of college basketball. What do you change?
I'll do one for the game and one off the court. I think I'd take out charges. The flopping. I don't flop, I don't like people who flop. I'll get a little guy on me, I'll be pressing, pressing. I'll go to make an aggressive move and they just fall over. I'd get rid of that.
Off the court, I think the NCAA underestimates the value of time. We put a lot of time into this game. Some benefits can be improved. I think the stipend is good for meals and stuff like that, but to not sway kids to go to the NBA, you can offer a better deal in college. Some guys are sick of their families living in the projects, so they want to go and make a living and support them.
Who would you start a team with if you could pick anyone in college basketball right now - - except someone on your team?
I'm caught in a dilemma with Kris Dunn and Ben Simmons. I'm going to say Kris Dunn. The way he gets in the lane, his tenacity, the East Coast swagger he has. I wouldn't trade Monte [Morris] for anyone -- including Dunn -- but I have a lot of respect for him.
Who is the National Player of the Year?
It's got to be Buddy Hield. Has to be. There's no question. He's playing at a ridiculous level. This guy's shooting 50 from [3-point territory] and he attempts some tough ones. He's doing a better job off the dribble, getting to the line. Ultimately, he's just been making winning plays. I think before he was sort of out to get his. He's doing a great job distributing the ball, making other guys better.
We're very close. We text all the time. He's a first-class dude. We both went to the Nike Camp, and I saw we were listed as roommates and was like, "Who would pick me and Buddy to room together?" He comes around the corner with that smile and says, "I did."
Who is the best trash-talker?
DeAndre Kane is the best I've played with. Markel Brown is the best I've played against -- and he's slick with it, too. He'll put his jersey over his mouth, or do it when you're down for a loose ball.
I'm a better trash-talker now. Before, I had to focus all my energy on breathing rather than talking going up and down the court otherwise someone would blow by me. But the refs don't really let a lot of it fly.
Should court storming be allowed?
When you are on the bad end, it's tough. You are frustrated about the loss, and you have people rampaging you -- whether it's purposely or by accident. But on the other end, it builds the memories. You get to be a part of something special. I'm going to say it should be allowed -- should be a motivation not to lose to a team you're not supposed to lose to.
I've talked to guys like Bill Self and Lon Kruger about you. They have a ton of respect for you. Why do you think that is?
I want to say it's [being] the underdog, and how hard I work. I like to think it's the passion I play with to be out there and try to win. How intense I am. My trash-talking comes from a competitive nature, trying to throw you off your game so I can win.
You said you went out and had fun last season. Now you don't go out at all. What went into that decision?
I stay home and am completely locked in. I don't need any distractions for my last year. With everything that's gone on and the adversity this team has faced, I have to be one of those guys who show people -- like Chris Herren told all of us when he came and spoke to us -- if it's that important to you, then you put it above everything else. That hit home with me and a bunch of guys.
Your reputation was that you were a great leader, but I was told that you were a good leader prior to this season and have become a great leader this year. What's been the difference?
A good leader can just talk, just say all the right things. A great leader has to go out and do it. This year speaks to that. I got out there and with any adversity we've had to face, whether it's a new coach or a new challenge, I feel like I've hit it head-on -- and been someone that can show solutions rather than being out there and saying what all the problems are. Anybody can announce the problems. How are you going to fix them? That's the biggest thing with me this year.
You also changed your body a couple years ago. What was the heaviest you've been at since you arrived in Ames?
The heaviest was 263, and it was the week before I left to go home after my sophomore year, 2014. I had no idea how much it took off the court. I thought basketball was all working out. I didn't know it had to do with eating, sleeping. If I was bored, I'd eat a Twinkie or go have some ice cream.
What was your go-to food back in the day?
Swiss cake rolls. Devil dogs. My mom used to limit me to one per day. One time I got into the snack cabinet and got two, hid one in the couch. I remember going into the kitchen and my mom being like, "What are you doing in there?" I had a mouthful of food. "Nothing."
How and why did it all change?
I met with my trainer, Noah LaRoche, back home and it was right after I broke my foot in the NCAA tournament [against North Carolina Central in the first round] two years ago. He asked me why I thought I broke my foot. I told him it was because I just came down funny. He said. "No, you weigh 260-something pounds. You're 19 percent body fat." My body couldn't handle all that pounding on it.
So, everything changed. My mom would drive me to his place on Monday in New Hampshire -- and I'd stay from Monday to Saturday morning. We'd do yoga every day, we'd go work out, then at night we'd go again. I was drinking kale, eating protein pancakes, and instantly I dropped 10 pounds. For four weeks, I sacrificed seeing my friends. I lost about 20 pounds that month and stuck with it because you see the results and are obsessed. I have been at about 230 for the last two years. I'm 11 percent [body fat] now. I'm not quite as obsessed. When I first got back, I remember being super-light and people being able to move me. Fred joked, "I miss fat Georges." I gained a few pounds, and that's what I've been playing at.
What's the worst thing a fan ever said to you?
I was at Kansas and had just lost all that weight. I was feeling good and came out in a Dri-fit [shirt]. A Kansas fan is yelling at me. "Hey Niang, I got something for you!" I glanced up and he whips out this pink sports bra, flinging it around his finger. "Do you need this, buddy?" I just looked down and was like, "I cannot catch a break."
What were you thinking after you lost to UAB in the first round last year?
I know exactly what I was thinking: I can't let this happen again. I was immediately thinking I need to be back in Ames. The biggest thing I was worried about was people thinking I was a loser. We won the Big 12 tournament -- so we won three games in three days -- whoop-de-doo. I want to do something that's bigger and make some noise. The spring was dark -- for me and everybody. It was embarrassing having lost the first actual game of the NCAA tournament. We came home that day, and I sat there on my living room couch for four straight days and watched all the games. Every single one. I think about it all the time. We were on a high after winning the Big 12 tourney. Then we go into UAB and are thinking we were going to smoke them. They had barely got in; we're going to pummel them. But we gave them hope, and it took off from there.
Then you lose Hoiberg to the Chicago Bulls? How difficult was that?
When Fred leaves, I thought, "Your last moment with the coach you really respected was one you wish you could have back." That was a tough pill to swallow. He had to leave. He couldn't turn down that job. I respect him 100 percent for what he did.
What did you know about your new coach, Steve Prohm?
I didn't know who he was. I thought they were going to hire in-house with TJ (Otzelberger, an assistant coach). Coach Prohm brings a unique passion and is pushing the right buttons right now. He has the toughest job in the world. It's not easy to follow Fred, manage our personalities, the way we used to play and still have us win. He's doing a great job.
Your college career is winding down. What will you miss most?
The memories with the guys. In the hotel, after winning games. And the fan support -- to have people so passionate. I never would have thought you'd have people camping out like they do. You beat Oklahoma on Big Monday and as you're leaving, there are still tents lined up because you play Kansas [in a week]. To be a part of this is more than anyone can ask for.
What would be a successful season this year?
A Final Four run, take out Kansas or Oklahoma. Doing something that nobody thought we could do. Winning conference tournaments is cool, but I want to do something that was really hard to do. I'd love to grow up, bring my kids back to Iowa State and be able to say, 'Your dad did that.'