When the best scorer on the team is also entrusted to be the floor general, he can walk a fine line between dominating and deferring.
Local coaches say Atascadero High senior Troy Norris found that balance as well as anyone they remember in recent years.
“He would take over games when he had to, but he got others involved,” Greyhounds coach Jerry Tamelier said. “He did everything you would want a team leader to do. Just knowing what we needed at different times, he was able to deliver in all different aspects of the game.”
Norris, a 5-foot-10 guard, is The Tribune’s San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year for the second season in a row after averaging 17.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
His Greyhounds finished 25-4 overall, reaching the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs after becoming the first PAC 7 team to go undefeated in league play since the 2005-06 season.
“It was really a fun team to watch play, because they played as a team,” Tamelier said. “It came together.”
A special season
Atascadero likely could’ve had a solid squad even without Norris, thanks to a supporting cast that included guard Hayden Mislavsky, wing Robert Berwick, power forward Weston Walker and center Sean Slavin. All except Berwick, a freshman, saw significant playing time in 2009-10, and all four join Norris on the all-county team.
Starting the season ranked No. 25 in Southern California by the Los Angeles Times, and with Norris carrying the county-player-of-the-year banner from his junior season, the Greyhounds were faced with the best shots of PAC 7 teams every night. They took them in stride.
After a 10-3 nonleague start, the Greyhounds won 15 straight games. It had been nearly two full months since their previous defeat by the time they bowed out of the playoffs.
When they started to roll, “we started realizing if all five of us came together, I think we could beat a lot of better teams,” Norris said. “We became real close. As long as the season kept going, we just trusted each other more and just bonded.
“We’ll be hanging out together as friends,” he added, “and just be like, ‘We did something that hasn’t been done in so long.’ It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Just as he had as a junior, when he scored 27 and 23 points in back-to-back playoff games against L.A. Cathedral and Inglewood, Norris delivered again on the big stage.
The most notable postseason win this year was a 60-47 victory over St. John Bosco of Bellflower, which put Atascadero among the final four in its division for the first time since 2002-03.
“As a team, it was probably the best memory for us,” Norris said. “Atascadero hasn’t gotten past that little hump in so long, and we were the first team to do it.”
Occasionally matched up with Oklahoma State-bound counterpart Cezar Guerrero in that game, Norris nearly had a triple-double with 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Game-changing abilities seldom seen
A year ago, Chris Stahowski, who coaches the Fresno-based AAU program Organized Chaos, was talking about his club with Johnny Hernandez, a colleague also involved in the travel-ball scene along the West Coast. Hernandez told Stahowski that all his team needed was a certain type of point guard to put it over the top. He had a specific candidate in mind.
After first meeting Norris, it didn’t take long for Stahowski to be sold.
“He practiced with our guards,” Stahowski said, “and I turned to Johnny in five minutes and said, ‘I’d love to have him.’ ”
At the Adidas Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas, one of the premier AAU venues in the country, Norris averaged eight points, five assists and three steals per game this past summer, and helped lead Organized Chaos to a milestone 77-51 win over D-One Sports, a loaded East Coast program. Consistently going “toe-to-toe” against widely sought-after college prospects, Norris more than held his own, Stahowski said.
“I’ve been doing this for 11 years,” Stahowski said, “and I’ve never had a guard get his hands on so many passes. He’s so quick. His on-ball defense, his hand-eye coordination, is all through the roof.”
This season, Norris’ 4.3 steals-per-game average was No. 1 in his division. His straight-line speed and leaping ability improved this year, during which he was also a star cornerback in football, setting school records for interceptions in a season (eight) and career (13), record dating back to 1975.
When asked, Norris said he dunked four times in games this past season. He’s quick to downplay it, though, no matter how rare it is at the prep level from players under 6 feet: “To me, in my mind, it’s two points. It doesn’t matter too much to me.”
Added Tamelier: “I always knew that if we were in a tough game down the stretch, and we were in crunch time, and there was an important breakaway or an important play, Troy would go for the two points (with a less-risky layup). He never was a showcase type of a player. He didn’t have to be.”
Bright past meets promising future
A handful of mid-major Division I programs have asked Tamelier and Stahowski about Norris. Both sing his praises.
“I’ve talked to some coaches in the Big West, and they ask me, ‘Do I think he could play Division I basketball?’ ” Tamelier said. “And I say, ‘He could step on the floor right now and help your team.’ ”
Norris said he may go the community college route, where he would be able to bide his time, add more upper-body strength to his 165-pound frame and then perhaps be able to transfer to a broader array of four-year programs.
Regardless of what Norris’ future may hold in store, though, Tamelier is one of many in Atascadero who simply couldn’t be happier about the legacy he has already left.
“I really like his respect for the game, his sportsmanship, picking players up off the floor,” Tamelier said. “Playing to win it, but at the same time looking after other people, and representing this program and this community in a way we like to be looked at.”