Without his parents, Naz doubts he would have been strong enough to move to the United States alone as a teenager to pursue his dream of playing basketball. His father, Jersey Long, was a former professional kickboxer, and Naz was a talented boxer as a pre-adolescent. When the time came to choose between boxing and basketball, however, his father showed crucial support.
“It was him who sat me down,” Mitrou-Long remembers. “He said if you want to take it as serious as you say you want to take it, you’ve got to put your 110% into these situations.
“I had a genuine love for basketball, I was looking around and I just didn’t love anything like I loved basketball. And he was behind me to push me.”
His mom, Georgia Mitrou, played a much different role.
“She is my rock, my angel, my everything,” Mitrou-Long says. “I can talk about her for hours. The most selfless person in my life. In my eyes, she is a perfect human being.”
Far away from home at age 16, Mitrou-Long did not have its easy. His mother was the one that helped him through it through long phone conversations.
“I had been around my family all the time, my friends all the time. My community was my friend. But when I was gone, I had to buckle down,” he says. “She was on the phone with me every single night. We would literally fall asleep on the phone.”
A few years later, during his senior year at university, Naz was moved to honor her by adding her last name to his jersey.
“My name is Nazareth Jersey Mitrou-Long, that’s 26 letters. So it was easy to keep it short, as Naz Long,” he explains. “But once I was in a position where my name was pretty well recognized in the college world, I needed to pay homage and respect to that side of my family, and in particular my mother. Like, that is my name.”
As one of the best players at Iowa State University, one of the top college teams at the time, his decision carried even more weight, made national news, and helped bring important discussions to the forefront.
“It is special to honor the women in your life,” he says. “I genuinely believe that you can become such a better person when you have strong women in your life.”
His decision not only moved his mom to tears, but also helped him connect with more people from her side of the family.
“It was very important, it was very special,” Mitrou-Long says. “And I think it even looks cooler on a jersey.”