Niang wonders ‘what if,’ Ejim reflects on his career


Senior forward Melvin Ejim fights off Connecticut players for a rebound during Iowa State’s 81-76 loss to the Huskies on March 27 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Ejim scored seven points and had eight rebounds in his final game as a Cyclone.

Dean Berhow-Goll

NEW YORK Just as he did one year ago, Georges Niang sat in the locker room after season-ending loss, talking to the media, face to the ground.

But the difference between the two NCAA Tournament losses? Niang didn’t let a game-winner go in over his outstretched hand. Instead, he sat on the bench with a boot on his broken right foot, watching his brothers and their Sweet 16 run come to an end under the lights at Madison Square Garden.

“A game winner or you sitting there not being able to do anything,” Niang said, bent over rubbing the outside of his boot. “I might take the game-winner over that because I have more control over the outcome.

“Sitting there was really gut-wrenching for me. Just not being able to help my team.”

On March 28 it was one full week since Niang broke his foot in San Antonio. Since then, most nights he’s laid in bed, wondering “what if.”

“I definitely thought to myself late at night,” Niang said. “What if I hadn’t broke my foot? What if I didn’t jump and try to block that shot? It happens for a reason.”

For the rest of his teammates who were out on the court, it was hard for them not to wonder the same thing. 

“Just knowing that you could’ve gave more at full strength,” said Monte Morris. “Especially with Georges out, we didn’t have our safety valve on offense.”

As the freshman wondered “what if” after his first season as a Cyclone came to an end, a fourth-year senior sat in the corner pulling off his ISU jersey for the last time.

Melvin Ejim sat mostly alone after most media and a few players sat with ISU sweats on looking down at the locker room floor.

“All good things come to an end and this year was one of those good things,” Ejim said, half-heartedly smiling.

Hoiberg’s first commit remembered that just four short years ago, he started on a team that won three Big 12 games. 

He remembered that three years ago they lost to the eventual National Champions in Kentucky.

Ejim said he could still envision his teammates embracing after Ohio State ended the career of five seniors only a year ago, while he waited for his chance to carry the load and deliver a postseason run to Iowa State.

“I came from the absolute glorified glue guy to player of the year on a team that’s was as successful as we were this year,” Ejim said, pointing out two tournament wins already this year, one in Hawaii and one in Kansas City, Mo. 

Then one last time as a Cyclone, Ejim cut the tape off his right ankle and motioned to the senior sitting to his right.

“I’ve got NBA prospects on my team,” Ejim said pointing to DeAndre Kane. 

He pulled on his ISU hoodie and looked over to where Naz Long and Morris sat at their lockers.

“I’ve got great kids making big shots in overtime wins, in championships,” Ejim said referring to the future of Morris and Long’s two game-saving triples against Oklahoma State. “So why be mad after one game?”

For the last time, he threw his sweaty ISU jersey and shorts into the middle of the floor and stared for a moment.

“It hurts, it sucks but the career that I’ve had, the career that these guys will have this year has been amazing,” Ejim said. “Why would one loss like this eclipse all the great things we’ve done? The easy thing is to be sad and put your head down. We’ve had a great year. We’ve had a great run.

“That’s something I can look back on and be proud of.”