KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The ChapStick smeared across the bathroom mirror in Georges Niang’s West Ames apartment serves as a constant reminder.
When Niang looks himself in the mirror each day his eyes eventually lead him to the quote written, with ChapStick, in his handwriting: “To get to places you’ve never been, you have to do things you’ve never done.”
As Niang prepares for his final go-around at Iowa State, he stood in the tunnel at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Tuesday pondering this very quote and its meaning.
There is hope that those words and that reminder might lead the senior and Iowa State to the Sprint Center court that laid just beyond the tunnel as the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Championship next March, and thus the regular season conference champions. Only time will tell, and for now Niang and Co. aren’t focused on that distant future.
Instead, Niang explains that almost philosophical message scrawled in ChapStick.
“Have I done things to step out of my comfort zone to make myself better each day?” Niang wondered. “I think it all just goes with sacrifice and if my sacrifices are enough to make my teammates better and make myself better every day that I wake up.”
By the end of his fourth and final season at Iowa State next spring, Niang is certain to be one of the program’s best. He’ll likely pass Fred Hoiberg for third all-time in scoring. He’ll be top-5 all-time in 3-pointers. He’ll be the winningest player in program history.
None of those things are his focus.
When teammate Jameel McKay walked into Niang's bathroom recently, he noticed the ChapStick quote written on the mirror. Then he noticed something else.
“It says “rebounds” next to it,” McKay said. “I think that was big time. I know Georges wants to rebound, you can tell he wants to rebound and I think he can.”
“To get to places you’ve never been, you have to do things you’ve never done.”
So Niang will rebound.
“Get out of my comfort zone, go after every ball, be a rebounder,” said Niang, who averaged a career-best 5.4 rebounds per game last season. “I really need to be that guy who is aggressive and goes to the glass and gets us extra opportunities on offense and really seals defensive possessions with defensive rebounds. A lot of games are won on the glass and as you get older you start realizing those things.
"Points aren’t the only things that matter.”
Of course, ending Kansas' streak of 11 conseuctive regular season Big 12 championships will take more than just Niang rebounding.
Monte Morris will be relied upon to be more aggressive and up his scoring. Naz Long will become a backup point guard. Jameel McKay must become a go-to scorer. Abdel Nader will need to become a key defender. The list goes on. Dethroning Kansas will not be done with one new dimension.
"Great coaching, great players, great fan support," was Coach Steve Prohm's answer to what it takes. "I think those are the things. That 11-year run is amazing. Obviously somebody’s got to break it one day, if it gets broken, but that’s an amazing feat."
The other key to a Big 12 regular season title?
"Just not worrying so much about what Kansas is doing and taking care of Kansas when you face Kansas," Morris said simply. "Honestly, we’ve just got to win the games you’re supposed to win. You know the home games [are], I’m not going to say automatic, but it’s almost a guarantee because we rarely lose at Hilton. If we take care [of business] on the road and win at Hilton, we should be fine."
Forgetting about Kansas and avoiding the slip-ups is what Iowa State will focus on. The Cyclones don't need to use a road loss to Texas Tech as motivation, but multiple players uttered a comnination of those words and "Lubbock" when talking about how close the team was to ending that streak one year ago.
"You just have to stay consistent and persistent, you can’t have any slip-ups," Long said. "We had a couple slip-ups last year that cost us the regular season [title]. We could have easily won it last year and I definitely feel like we have all the tools and the necessary people to do that this year."
When Niang moves out of his apartment next year, he hopes to wipe the quote off his mirror having gone places both he and Iowa State have never been before.
"I wrote it in like ChapStick or something so they wouldn’t fine me when I have to move out at the end of the year," Niang said. "If it doesn’t wash off then I know it’s real. I can see it right there. It’s a good reminder for me every day."