I feel like this is my first opportunity where I have to be one of the main guys and not just a role player. I’m expanding on my game and he’s definitely one of my motivational factors. —Naz Mitrou-Long
SALT LAKE CITY — From Ames, Iowa, to Salt Lake City.
Who would’ve imagined?
Feasting on a Sunday evening meal at The Cheesecake Factory is how former Iowa State teammates Naz Mitrou-Long and Monte Morris chose to reflect.
“I’m always happy to see my other teammates and friends on this stage,” said Morris, a Denver Nuggets two-way player. “It just shows how hard we’ve worked and the group of people I like to be around.”
While the Cyclones reunion was fun while it lasted, the college buddies put their friendship aside for 48 minutes Monday when Mitrou-Long’s Salt Lake City Stars hosted Morris’ Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Rio Grande Valley topped Salt Lake City 117-104 in the Stars’ first-ever NBA G League game in Vivint Arena, but the experience was priceless as Stars home games are typically held at Lifetime Activities Center-Bruin Arena.
“I feel like this is my first opportunity where I have to be one of the main guys and not just a role player,” said Mitrou-Long, Salt Lake City’s third-leading scorer. “I’m expanding on my game and he’s definitely one of my motivational factors.”
Utah Jazz players Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Raul Neto and Ekpe Udoh enjoyed the action near courtside as they prepare to face the Denver Nuggets on ESPN Tuesday.
Nuggets players Gary Harris, Will Barton and Kenneth Faried were also in the house to see the G League affiliates.
Jazz big man Tony Bradley was assigned to the Stars for the night as he posted eight points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes with the game in conjunction with a Junior Jazz event.
Morris would end with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block. Mitrou-Long finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The two communicate at least two to three times per week via text messages or social media. Prior to tipoff, Mitrou-Long gifted his buddy with a commemorative cardinal and gold rubber band that read: “Cyclone Nation Loyal. Forever. True.”
They first met during Morris’ second recruiting trip while he was still playing at Flint Beecher High School in Flint, Michigan. The rest is history as they led the program to three Big 12 titles and four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2013-16 while forming a bond through late nights in the gym and goofing off around campus.
Morris finished his career as ISU’s all-time leader in career assists and steals while Mitrou-Long nailed the second-most 3-pointers in program history (260) and tied the second-most victories in Cyclones history (98).
Both guys remain loyal followers of the university and of each other as they work to find their way in the NBA on a full-time basis.
Georges Niang (Santa Cruz Warriors) and Abdel Nader (Boston Celtics) are a couple of other Cyclones with NBA ties. Morris signed his two-way contract after being picked in the second round by the Nuggets.
“It’s a grind but I’m one call away from playing on the big stage,” said Morris, who averages 15.4 points, 3.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds through 11 games. “I’ve just got to be ready for my moment and get to it.”
Mitrou-Long spent training with the Utah Jazz after being signed as a free agent but was waived during the preseason. He’s certainly not bonding over cheesecake meals with visitors on the regular as he works toward his goal.
The Stars (1-9) will hit the road to face Oklahoma City Blue at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1.
“I want to play in the NBA and that’s why I turned down some deals overseas and my agent felt like that was a good thing to do because I’ve never been one to chase the money,” Mitrou-Long said. “That’s the reason why I left home at 15 is to play in the NBA and that’s my dream and I truly believe I can do it.”