For three years, Georges Niang lived across the hall from Matt Thomas at Iowa State University, where the two attended and played basketball for the Cyclones.
“We grew that friendship then and have been really close friends ever since,” Thomas said.
On Thursday, when Niang was going through some shooting at the Jazz practice facility, he was approached by Jazz vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey. Thursday happened to be the NBA trade deadline so at first Niang’s mind went to the most obvious place. He thought he was gone.
But then Lindsey asked Niang what he thought of Matt Thomas and after Niang sang his former teammate’s praises, Lindsey smiled and told Niang that he was now his newest Jazz teammate.
The Utah Jazz acquired Thomas from the Toronto Raptors for a future second-round pick, and on Friday night Thomas got into Salt Lake City in time to sit on the bench and watch part of the Jazz’s game against the Grizzlies.
“As you can see by the smile on my face, it’s like old times. We had a lot of good memories at Iowa State.” — Georges Niang
On Saturday night he got his first minutes on the court in a Jazz uniform, and on Monday night, sharing the court with Niang, he scored his first points as a member of the Utah Jazz.
“As you can see by the smile on my face, it’s like old times. We had a lot of good memories at Iowa State,” Niang said. “It’s just so unique and cool that you can live out a dream that you once talked about with one of your good friends in college, about what it’s like to be at the next level and we get to — not to sound too mushy — but we get to do it together on the same team. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of fun. It was great to be back out there with Matt, to see him put the ball in.”
Though Thomas has only played sparingly over the last two seasons with the Raptors, he was with the team in the Orlando bubble last year, which gave him a unique opportunity to bond with players from other teams. So, while he was spending time with Niang in the bubble, he also got to know some of the other guys on the Jazz.
“I know Donovan, met him out there and got to know him a little bit, and Joe and a few of the other guys,” Thomas said. “We all had ice baths out by the pool together, a bunch of the teams. So that just gave us some time together out there and some familiarity and is helping me adapt.”
Niang and Thomas could be seen over the last couple games talking on the bench, sharing pointers and thoughts with one another and when they got into the game together in the fourth quarter on Monday it was clear that there was chemistry already built in.
“It’s great to reunite with him,” Thomas said. “And I’m pretty fortunate to be joining the best team in the league.”