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Georges Niang’s NBA journey

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Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang (31) works on Adelaide 36ers power forward Eric Griffin (17) as the Utah Jazz and the Adelaide 36ers play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Long before Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang wore an NBA uniform, he was just a kid from New England playing every sport that was available to participate in.

“My dad and mom had me in soccer when I was 4 or 5 years old,” he explained. “I played basketball, ice hockey, football, baseball, wrestling — I was always doing something.”

It was around the fourth grade that he joined a traveling basketball team that played other youth squads in his home state of Massachusetts and nearby states in the region.

“It was probably my eight grade year that I realized that I could really make something happen,” Niang said. He said he got his first college scholarship offer as a junior in high school and by the end of that year, he was all-state and heavily recruited.

Despite the high interest from numerous college programs, he committed to Iowa State largely because he appreciated the consideration given to him early-on by then-head coach Fred Hoiberg.

“I’m a loyal guy and Fred Hoiberg was from the first major school to offer me a scholarship,” Niang said. “He was the first (Division 1) coach to actually take a risk and believe in me, and I wanted to be loyal to him and give him everything I had. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”

At Iowa State, Niang made a big impression right away despite not being in the best condition, he noted.

“My freshman year, I averaged 12 points and I was out of shape. I was overweight,” he recalled. He was listed at 6-8 and 260 pounds.

He believed his game would improve significantly if he put more effort into conditioning and getting his body into better shape. Turns out he was right.

After dropping 30 pounds, his game flourished and he won the Karl Malone Award — given to the nation’s top collegiate power forward — as a senior. He was taken in the second round of the 2016 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers, however, his career didn’t take off like he anticipated.

“Being drafted was exciting,” he said. “But little did I realize that when you get drafted into the NBA, that’s when the real work starts.”

Niang spent a large part of his first two professional seasons in the G League working on his game. He said getting a spot on an NBA roster is much harder than many people may realize.

“(It’s like) starting at the bottom of the totem pole, you go from being high after being drafted to (competing) with guys who have been in the NBA three or four years, and they’re not going to let you come in and take their spots,” he explained. “So you have to go out there and earn it.”

“You have to find your niche and you gotta have some luck that happens,” he said.

In January 2018, he signed with the Jazz, which he contends was very fortunate for his career prospects.

“Once I got here to Utah, everything just seemed to click,” Niang said. “The way they value high IQ basketball players, people that can shoot the ball. They find ways to make you fit and when you feel wanted, it makes you want to continue to grow and become better everyday.”

“Thats what Utah and the Jazz organization has done for me,” he said.

He noted that when he initially signed, the team was struggling nine games below .500, but the coaches took the time to work with him on elements of his game that needed improvement.

“It felt really good to me to feel appreciated, loved and that someone was invested in my development,” he said.

Niang feels like his attributes as a defender and long distance shooter, as well as his playmaking ability, can be assets for a team that is expected to be competitive in a stacked Western conference. For now, he wants to become a reliable player for the coaches and a dependable teammate for his colleagues on the floor, particularly on defense.

“In this organization, if you defend then you’re going to get time on the floor,” Niang said. “We have guys that can score the ball; this is a way you can stick out and separate yourself. It’s hard and a lot of people don’t want to do it, so if you can find someone willing to do it, that’s how you get your time (on the court).”