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For Georges Niang, a path to the NBA may not include the draft

May 16, 2016 Columns No Comments

In a season full of senior stars, Georges Niang is one who might have seemed an unlikely one once upon a time. His is a story of how intangibles supplement talent and physical gifts and bring someone a long way.

As a high schooler, Niang won – a lot. He played for the powerful BABC program, long the premier travel program in New England, and they rarely lost games while winning a Nike EYBL title and an AAU national championship during his time. It didn’t stop there, as his teams at the Tilton School won four straight NEPSAC Class AA titles and nearly won a fifth, and also won a National Prep Championship. He was no small part of all of those teams, scoring over 2,300 points at Tilton and being a constant presence for BABC, though more of a glue guy on the latter for a good deal of his career.

It wasn’t just on the court that he made his mark; he was also student body president at Tilton and is one of the best kids in college basketball. He was the total package.

Still, until well into his junior year in high school, he had a lot of mid-major offers. Plenty weren’t sure he could play as a high-major given that he lacks athleticism; he was seen as more of an over-achiever, one who got the most out of his body and knew who he was. He was a late bloomer, but also one not loaded with upside as he was quite mature physically. That’s not to say he couldn’t improve physically, as he did, and is now in the best shape of his life.

Niang is now looking ahead to the NBA Draft next month, as well as past that. His college career was one of productivity and accomplishment, and he finishes with some pretty good career numbers that show what he is capable of. Niang finishes his career with over 2,200 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists, demonstrating how he impacted games in multiple ways. He’s second on the Big 12’s career scoring list in conference games, in a conference that has had plenty of great players. That production continued right up to the end, as this March he became the first player in NCAA Tournament history to have at least 25 points, five rebounds and three assists in three straight games.

If nothing else, he will go down as a great college player, regardless of what he does professionally. If he never makes the NBA, he would be one more to have a great college career not translate into an NBA career as the game is different. He was never a sure-fire NBA prospect, which is one reason he ended up being a four-year player, and ultimately a decorated one at that.

The same things that led to his recruitment taking off late will also be questions as far as his NBA potential – namely, his conditioning, plus he’s not athletic. Athleticism isn’t everything, especially at his position of power forward, but it does matter. It matters more defensively than offensively, because the question at higher levels – from high school to college and college to the pros – is more about who one guards than where one plays at the offensive end.

In the right offense, Niang can certainly help a team. His versatility and basketball I.Q. are big selling points, as are his intangibles, which are off the charts. His athletic limitations hurt him as concerns the draft, but there’s no reason to think he won’t get a chance to earn a roster spot through a summer league and then training camp. The NBA Draft is more about upside than production, and Niang has much more of the latter than the former.

Some see Niang as perfect for playing overseas given his skill set. That may well happen, and he could make good money there and then work to get an NBA team to want him after he produces more. But first, he should at least get a chance stateside to earn a training camp invite via a summer league if he doesn’t get drafted.

Niang stayed the course in college and is ready to work his way on to a professional roster the same way he worked his way to a Big 12 scholarship and productive career. Whether that ends up being in the NBA or another league, in North American or elsewhere, remains to be seen. If he makes it to the NBA, it may not come via the most direct journey, and it might involve a circuitous route. With his resume thus far, do you doubt him at this point?

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