AMES — Naz Long held a fork and a knife.
Then he put them down and opened up.
The senior ISU guard’s poignant, parting text letter — as seen on Twitter, at about 8:30 this morning — he sent to now-former coach Fred Hoiberg literally interrupted his breakfast.
Call it stream-of-consciousness inspiration. A jazz-like riff. However described, Long staved off hunger (for a bit) as a long journey came to an end and another one beckoned, both here and in Chicago.
“The thoughts were just flowing through my mind and I stopped eating breakfast,” said Long, who was joined by his teammates in sending well-read and well-put well-wishes for the Mayor in the hours and minutes before he officially became the Bulls’ new coach. “Stuff like that, those types of messages — people can’t really get a grasp of it if it’s not real, if it’s not genuine. I feel like those are my true emotions. Those are my true thoughts. Coach Fred knows that about me. I love the guy, man. So it was really easy to write.”
What’s not easy is fully absorbing the finality of this goodbye. When faced with questions based on what qualities Long and his teammates want in their next head coach, answers were understandably in short supply.
“I’m still getting over the fact that Fred’s leaving, so I haven’t really been able to stumble across any specific coach that we need,” said Long’s roommate and fellow senior, Georges Niang, in a conference call. “But I think a coach that can come in and help us win, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
“Help” being the operative word. Niang and Long emerged as obvious leaders last season, if not earlier. Their skills and seasoning — along with the varied talents of Monté Morris, Jameel McKay and others — require little more than a guiding hand; one that’s firm in creating a culture of accountability, but one’s that primarily self-policing.
Freedom? Their next leader would be wise to continue to grant that to the free-wheeling offensive-minded Cyclones, who, for the umpteenth time, are ranked among the top-five or top-ten in every way-to-early preseason top 25.
“We’re going to fight through adversity,” said Long, who added he’s ahead of schedule health-wise after undergoing offseason hip surgeries. “Come next year, man, in that building, Hilton, it’s going to be a special thing. I know people are believing in us and for those believers, they just need to be patient.”
As for the coaching search …
Several players — including Long, Morris, McKay, Deonte Burton and Abdel Nader — met mid-afternoon Tuesday with athletics director Jamie Pollard and senior associate athletics director David Harris.
Niang, who has yet to return to campus, said Pollard reaching out in that way "speaks volumes to the guy that he is and how he really cares about us."
Long said he’s convinced the search will end with the right man.
“We put complete trust in our AD and we know they’re going to do great things,” Long said. “They brought in Fred before so I’m sure they’re going to find a great hire.”
Both Long and Niang said T.J. Otzelberger and other assistants have helped keep lines of communication flowing, both offering and facilitating the sharing of support among players.
“Be together,” Niang said. “That’s been the most helpful for us. We’ve erased a lot of questions just by sticking together and talking to each other and being good communicators.”
As has been reported, Hoiberg was in touch with players on Sunday, informing them his move to Chicago had reached the dotting i’s and crossing t’s stage.
Before that, Niang said, Hoiberg had divulged there was a chance he might not return.
“We’re all really super excited for him,” Niang said. “We all had our moments where we’re like, ‘Man, we can’t believe he’s leaving.’ But at the end of the day, it’s a business and we’re really excited for the opportunity he’s going to have in front of him. At the end of the day, we’re going to be all right.”
Long said players already in Ames — some, like Niang, won’t be back until the end of the week — gathered to watch Hoiberg’s introductory news conference on TV.
Smiles abounded, he said.
“We’re happy,” Long said. “I can’t put it in any other words. I’m happy for coach Fred. This is a move that any coach would dream to do. The whole goal in this game is to continuously move forward and I feel like coach Fred has left a mark on this school that will never be forgotten. … The Bulls just got 14 more fans.”
Still, they’re players first.
And whoever’s leading them in the coming days, weeks and season(s) ahead, their goal’s obviously unchanged.
“Nothing’s going to stop us from our vision,” Long said. “I feel like our whole team believes that. This is not a setback. It happened, it’s over. Now we’ve just got to move on to the next.”
HOIBERG MEDIA MEET-UP: ISU announced Tuesday afternoon that Hoiberg would meet with the local media in Ames on Friday. The time has not yet been set, however.