Capital City League action returned to West Des Moines on Sunday night and for the first time since Iowa State's Sweet 16 loss to eventual national champion, UConn, fans had the chance to watch their favorite Cyclones take to the floor. A number of players were absent, but the big news of the night was that Georges Niang made an unexpected appearance and led his Renaissance Granite and Quartz squad to victory.
In true summer league fashion, it's only appropriate that we overreact to what we saw and let our amateur basketball evaluation skills have their day in the sun.
Footing the Bill
As mentioned, Niang surprised everyone and announced earlier in the day that he would be taking the court on Sunday. News had broke a week back that Niang would be skipping the first two weeks of action, but there he was and it didn't look like he missed a beat.
Niang had been recovering from a broken bone in his foot that he suffered against North Carolina Central in the NCAA tournament, but he didn't show any noticeable lingering affects from the injury. With DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim gone, Niang will be the unquestioned leader of this team and it was encouraging to see him out there and up to his old tricks. Physically, he looked in good shape and he led his team with 29 points and 11 rebounds as they scored a win over Walnut Creek YMCA, led by Jameel McKay.
Speaking of McKay, he didn't disappoint. The athletic forward played to his reputation, altering shots, pulling down boards from above the rim and adding a mega highlight dunk for good measure.
This was my first time seeing McKay in person and I have to say, I was impressed. He worked his ass off underneath and in a league that doesn't always feature great post play, his high motor intensity stood out. He caused Niang fits multiple times on the offsensive glass and he showed an ability to attack off the dribble and play with his back to the basket.
That's all well and good, but you're probably going to hear a lot about his put-back dunk. We'll try and find video of it, but to give you an idea of how athletic McKay is, he hoisted up a three from near the top of the key, the ball caromed high off the glass and out of nowhere, McKay came flying in from the perimeter and followed his own shot with a monster put-back jam. If the CCL were anything like the And 1 tour, the game would have stopped, everyone would have lost their collective shit and fans would have rushed the floor. But alas, this is suburban Iowa, so a loud, "OHHHHHHHH!" and an appreciative round of applause would have to suffice from the predominantly white, Midwestern crowd.
While it was entertaining as hell to watch Niang and McKay employ their contrasting styles of play against each other, I couldn't help but wonder if Fred Hoiberg has found the missing inside piece that was sorely missing from his last two teams (HYPE ALERT).
The second game of the night saw Naz Long and Daniel Edozie do battle against Sherron Dorsey-Walker and Dustin Hogue. I'll get to Hogue and Edozie in a second, but first, I have to talk about the 3sus vs. SDW showdown. It's hard to argue that anyone on Iowa State's team was playing with more confidence at the end of the year than Naz Long. Hitting one clutch shot after another, Long has already secured a place in Cyclone lore for his buzzer beaters against Oklahoma State, his cold-blooded range against Baylor in the Big 12 championship game, and against North Carolina in the round of 32. Well, it looks like that confidence has carried into the off season.
Long dropped 40 points as his Phoenix Renewable Resources team held off Coca Cola Bottling Company of Atlantic, 108-105. Dorsey-Walker looked to be Long's equal early and had a nice night with 27 points, but this was Long's show. Just as he did a year ago, Long will probably enter the year as a starter with Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas likely missing some time and if Long keeps shooting the ball like this, it might be hard to get him out of that starting line up. In fact with the way Long shoots the ball, I struggle to call him an off guard because he's always on.
Dorsey-Walker is another guy that will need to step up in the absence of Nader and Thomas and after getting burned by a hot summer league showing last year, I'm cautiously tempering any expectations I have for the redshirt sophomore. To be completely honest though, Dorsey-Walker looks like a contributor. Physically, he's still growing into his body, but his shot looked pure on Sunday and I think he can help this team win. I fully expect Iowa State to play a 10-man rotation next year and I think Dorsey-Walker absolutely belongs in that group.
As for the other two Cyclones in this game, it was good and bad. Hogue did Hogue things, stringing together put-back dunks and controlling the glass (finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds), but Edozie didn't exactly have a great night. The senior to be shot 1-7 and missed a break away dunk and a couple gimmes on the inside. I wouldn't be too concerned though. We know Edozie's role is to play spot minutes inside, play good D, grab a few boards and make guys earn their points from the stripe. He's just not a gifted offensive player, but this team doesn't need him to be.
The New Guys
The final game of the night saw Capital Orthopedics, led by Abdel Nader and Clayton Custer cruise to an easy victory over ADIO Chiropractic, who was missing Monte Morris and Matt Thomas.
First things first. During warm ups, Custer threw down a few dunks, which led to the entire crowd saying profound things like, "oh shit, Custer can dunk." Once Custer took the floor, it was easy to see what made him such a highly sought after recruit. He plays with an easy going demeanor, always in control and while he's a creator, he looked like he knew when to push it and when to dial it back. Custer led his team with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. He showed a nice mid-range jumper and found a variety of ways to finish at the rack.
The big question is, can he play right away? After one night, I'm not really sure. Physically, I thought he looked more ready to play than Monte Morris or Dorsey-Walker did coming in as freshmen, but Custer does lack the quickness and height of those two. I'll be curious to see how Custer stacks up once he faces off against Long or Morris or a Hallice Cooke and I think we'll learn a little more about him then. But as far as debuts goes, I've seen a lot worse in this league and rarely, anything much better, so ultimately, I was encouraged with what I saw.
On the receiving end of some of those looks from Custer was Nader. The Northern Illinois transfer made a brief cameo in the CCL last summer, but this was the first chance many had at watching him play. I commented that Nader looked nothing like his high school highlights videos (that's a good thing) and really felt like he's going to be a weapon for this team the next two years. It's really too bad that he's going to be suspended for a few games because I easily think he's a guy that should be in that starting five. Kind of a tweener, Nader, Hogue and Niang will all be interchangeable on the inside and outside, which has me really excited.
Nader finished with 26 points and 20 rebounds and knocked down 4-10 from outside. He also had 7 assists and more than once, pulled down a rebound and started the break (queue the Royce White comparisons). Nader definitely has a little explosiveness to him and he has a good frame that will allow him to handle the rigors of the Big 12. Now that he's escaped the hell hole that is Northern Illinois basketball, I think his Swiss Army Knife game will fit in perfectly with this Iowa State team and Hoiberg will find a role that fits Nader's versatility.
I've been going to these CCL games for years and never once had I heard a heckler...until Sunday. In the last game, a fan dressed in a Drake shirt yelled, "pass the ball!" after Nader had attempted a three, prompting a lot of confused looks and "WTFs" from those in the stands. I don't know if Nader heard it or not, but I couldn't help but chuckle. What did you expect dude? Set plays and excellent ball movement?
Anyway, the league will be back in action on Wednesday night and hopefully, we see a few more Cyclones on the hardwood.
Note: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Hallice Cooke and Georgios Tsalmpouris did not play.