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‘It’s different’: Georges Niang describes working out at Utah Jazz practice facility with restrictions in place

Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang said he has been working out every day at the team’s practice facility, Zions Bank Basketball Campus, since it opened for voluntary, individual workouts Monday.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang said he felt like it was the first day of school on Monday when the Jazz reopened Zions Bank Basketball Campus.

Niang showed up in some fresh new team gear and went into the practice facility excited about working somewhere that wasn’t his apartment and getting a chance to shoot a basketball indoors.

Being able to get up some shots in a familiar place and go through some training that hasn’t been accessible for the last two months was absolutely a breath of fresh air for Niang, but there was also the obvious and intense feeling of this being a different world than it was pre-coronavirus.

“It’s different,” he said during a Zoom conference call with reporters on Friday. “The practice facility, the way I looked at it before, was kind of like a safe haven. ... It was just a place where you could be carefree and be yourself.”

The Jazz opened the ZBBC on Monday for voluntary, individual workouts. In an attempt to reduce the risk of COVID-19, the NBA has put in place multiple guidelines and restrictions that teams must follow at practice facilities.

No more than four players can be at the gym at a time and everyone must stay at least 12 feet apart with group activities strictly prohibited. Players are able to have a trainer work with them but they must wear a mask at all times, and there’s constant sanitizing of equipment and exercise spaces.

“It’s tough now,” Niang said. “You don’t feel as safe when you’re looking across and your trainer is wearing a mask and gloves and you have a mask on and you’re constantly having to sanitize and do different things. It was tough the first day because this wasn’t what I was used to.”

Friday was Niang’s fifth day working out under to new rules and he’s starting to acclimate and is better able to appreciate that the NBA is taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the players. Even though things are different, Niang is healthy and he’s glad to be getting back to somewhat of a normal routine.

“It’s better than my guest bedroom that had 25-pound dumbbells and a stationary bike,” he said with a laugh.

Niang said after a few minutes of nervously getting his feet under him, shooting 3-pointers felt comfortable and familiar, though he joked that having spent so much time away from a basketball gym, “the person that was rebounding for me probably lost 17 pounds chasing down that ball.”

As far as the rest of the NBA season and the playoffs are concerned, Niang is absolutely hopeful that they will be able to find a way to play but understands that it will have to come with the health and safety as a the top priority and that the decision is out of his control.

He is trying to stay present and live in the moment rather than think too much about what the future holds, as that kind of thinking has become an easy way to spiral.

“Just taking it day by day,” he said. “Obviously if we play I’ll be thrilled. The Minivan will fuel up and get going. Just living in the present because I’ve been living in the future the past two months and I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to figure out what’s going to happen.”

Though Niang has had a lot of time on his hands since the NBA suspended the season on March 11, he’s tried to keep himself busy. During the hiatus, he launched the “Drive & Dish” podcast, in which he interviews a guest every week.

Guests on Niang’s podcast have ranged from teammates Jordan Clarkson, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, to other sports figures like the Utah Royals’ Amy Rodriguez, former Jazz man Bryon Russell and Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham. Even Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall made an appearance.

When Niang is not working out or working on his podcast, he’s been catching up on Netflix shows “Ozark” and “Narcos” and reading books sent to him by Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. He just finished “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle and is starting “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, which is a favorite in many NBA circles.