SALT LAKE CITY — Two days after Christmas, new Utah Jazz signee Naz Mitrou-Long walked out of the visitors locker room in Oracle Arena to a familiar face.
His former Iowa State teammate Georges Niang, a member of the G-League’s Santa Cruz Warriors, stood outside waiting for him with family and friends.
Little did they know at the time that less than a month later, one would be replacing the other’s role in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz have now signed Niang to a two-way deal, just one day after waiving Mitrou-Long.
“I’m really excited. Whenever you have a chance to join an organization that values good basketball and high IQ basketball, you have to be excited,” Niang told the Deseret News. “The Utah Jazz organization has great traditions and culture, and I am happy that I have a chance to be a part of that.”
Niang is Iowa State’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer and a two-time All-American. In 2016, Niang won the Karl Malone Award as the nation’s top power forward.
Obviously Malone is a legendary Jazz star and one of the greatest players in NBA history, so that’s another connection.
In 26 games for the Warriors, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Niang averages 18.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists at forward. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA draft with the 50th pick, but was waived after his rookie season.
Mitrou-Long appeared in one game as a Jazzman, logging a 3-pointer in a minute against Denver on Dec. 26. The 24-year-old guard averages 15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists for the Stars.
"It was time well spent. I learned a bunch from being around the team in general," Mitrou-Long told the Deseret News. "I loved it and will take what I learned, work hard and turn this dream (into) a reality. I appreciate the Jazz organization for providing the opportunity."
LIKE MIKE: As a nod to Michael Jordan, Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell sports No. 45 on the hardwood. On Friday, he dropped 35 points with MJ sitting courtside, but the Hornets topped Utah 99-88. The experience was cool, but Mitchell was so focused on the game that he wasn’t initially aware of Jordan's presence.
“I didn’t know he was there until after the game to be honest with you,” Mitchell said. “I had no clue, but it was definitely really cool to know that he was there watching the game. I had no idea.”
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell wears No. 45 as a nod to Michael Jordan. He got to play in front of MJ in Charlotte Friday, but said he didn’t know he was there until after the game. “I had no idea.” pic.twitter.com/qYZbFiO3Ly— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) January 14, 2018
PLAYOFF HOPES: As Thabo Sefolosha faces potential season-ending surgery on his right knee, the Jazz continue to hold on to their slim playoff chances. Utah has lost four of its last five games and is 4.5 games behind for the Western Conference’s eight spot, but is keeping faith that things will fall into place with the toughest stretch in the rearview mirror. Sefolosha suffered the knee injury during the second quarter of Friday’s loss in Charlotte, but Jonas Jerebko is expected to receive extended minutes. Utah has played the second-hardest schedule thus far behind Memphis, per Basketball Reference.
“We’re fine. We’ve had a rough couple of months with some tough games in the schedule and all that (but) we’re playing better basketball,” Jerebko said. “We’re getting some guys back healthy, so we’re not worried about it, we’ll take it game by game and see if we can string a win streak together to get us back to .500.”