AMES, IOWA — With the old, worn-down Volvo sitting idle in the parking lot of his West Ames apartment, Georges Niang departed for his final trip to Hilton Coliseum in atypical fashion, which fit perfectly on this unordinary day.
Niang wanted no semblance of normalcy, nothing that would remind him that, for one final time, he’d run out of the steel double doors at Hilton into a throng of 14,384 rabid fans only to play his final game in front of the hometown faithful.
For any other game, Niang would sit behind the steering wheel of that Volvo, the old engine chugging along toward the end of its lifespan with each passing mile across town. His roommate, Naz Mitrou-Long, would ride passenger, neither thinking anything about the routine pregame ride.
Until now, as Niang avoided the final sentimental moments.
“The Volvo, a.k.a., ‘Champagne Papi,’ it takes both of us. It makes the trip. Always,” Mitrou-Long said of Niang’s car. “Not tonight.”
Instead, the old Volvo and its 247,000 memorable miles sat at home while his father, Sidy, drove Niang and teammate Abdel Nader across town one last time.
For the past four years, Niang has found a game day routine. But on this day, he didn’t spend time thinking about the tendencies of Oklahoma State nor did he and Mitrou-Long spend much time together for fear of emotions.
So the Volvo stayed put.
“You know what they say in driver’s ed, don’t drive when you’re emotional. So I got a ride over here,” Niang said before turning serious. “I was just nervous to know that when that clock hit zero in the last minute of warming up or whenever we went back, it was my last time doing that. [I was] more afraid, because I don’t know if I’ll ever experience anything as great as what I’ve experienced here. The support and the love — the real love that I felt here — I was afraid for that to happen one last time. I think I put my all into this place and I’m content with closing this chapter at Hilton because I left everything I had out there.”
When 6 p.m. did finally strike Monday, after Niang, Nader and fellow senior Jameel McKay were recognized in a pregame Senior Night ceremony, basketball was basketball regardless of the emotions this night carried with it.
Iowa State, with key contributions from all three seniors, eventually used a large second-half run to upend Oklahoma State, 58-50, in its lowest scoring game. Niang tallied his fifth-career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, McKay grabbed another 10 rebounds and Nader scored a game-high 19 points, including three from a monstrous and-one dunk which grabbed national attention.
In the waning seconds, Nader, McKay and Niang were called off the court one by one to a rousing ovation. Niang kissed his hand, crouched down, touched center court and departed. The final seconds ticked away.
Then, it was over.
Following a four-year stint that saw him go 60-5 at Hilton Coliseum en route to becoming the winningest player in program history and soon the first ever to play in four NCAA tournaments, it was time for Niang to say goodbye. For as hard as he tried to prolong this moment, time had finally intervened.
The tears began to stream down Niang’s face when he grabbed the microphone at midcourt from head coach Steve Prohm, who had introduced him as, “the future head coach of Iowa State.”
“I was afraid coming to the game today because I don't want to leave this place,” Niang told the crowd. “But as I got onto the court and saw all 14,000 of you guys, I realized I'm not leaving. I've got a home forever in Ames.”
With that, Niang had said goodbye.
“He’s got a personality and a charisma about him,” Prohm said. “He’s one of the guys, his senior class, that put Iowa State basketball back on the map.”
Niang and Co. certainly hope there will be many more games to be played in March and much more to be added to an already large legacy. But for now, one chapter of Niang’s long and memorable career has come to a close.
All good things, after all, must come to an end.
Even the old Volvo that, just like Niang, has endured so many great rides.
“The Volvo has seen its last days,” Niang said. “Maybe that was more of the reason I didn’t drive it. I still have to push it to class, though. It’s my baby.”