Uncontrollably, the Atascadero High student section spilled onto the Ewing Gym court, swarming Troy Norris.
The joyous mob lifted Norris atop its collective shoulders in celebration, carrying him into an indelible memory.
“People still talk about it,” Norris said. “It was a special moment, because we have great fans and a great environment to be around.”
That scene came Feb. 19 in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA boys basketball playoffs. Norris, a 5-foot-10 junior point guard for the 11th-seeded Greyhounds, had just individually outscored fifth-seeded Cathedral of Los Angeles 10-3 in the final 90 seconds of a 56-53 win.
“It’s not like he’s a crowd-pleaser or anything,” Atascadero coach Jerry Tamelier said. “He just brings that energy and does the things that make people want to come to the gym.”
Thanks to a string of those sort of late-season performances, Norris has been named The Tribune’s San Luis Obispo County Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
For the season, Norris averaged 16.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 2.4 assists per game, leading Atascadero through a 19-9 campaign that came to an end in the divisional quarterfinals. In particular, it was his postseason that stood out amongst an elite trio of guards within the county that included Arroyo Grande’s Michael Escobedo and Paso Robles’ Lonnie Watson — a pair of seniors who joined Norris in earning both all-PAC 7 and all-county first-team honors.
The 6-foot Escobedo averaged 13.8 points per game, and chipped in 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals per contest in league play, leading the Eagles through a 21-8 season that concluded in the Division 3AA quarterfinals. Meanwhile, the 6-3 Watson posted 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game as the Bearcats went 14-12, falling in the opening round of the Division 3A playoffs.
Over their final 11 games, the Greyhounds went 8-3, the best such stretch of any PAC 7 or Los Padres League team in the county. As Atascadero’s playoff run came to a close in a 52-39 defeat at the hands of third-seeded Inglewood, Norris had a game-high 23 points.
In all, Norris’ 66 playoff points were the most in the county, and his per-game postseason average of 22 points trailed only the 25.5 of North County Christian’s Josh Feld, an all-county second-team pick.
“He really seems to thrive in those big-game situations,” Tamelier said. “He’s the type of player who can kind of hit the switch and the whole team follows.”
Gradually becoming a leaderNorris, who moved to Atascadero from Eugene, Ore. as a freshman, played a significant role off the bench as a sophomore during the Greyhounds’ 20-8 season that resulted in a share of the PAC 7 crown, contributing eight points and 1.4 steals a game. He was the only underclassman selected to the all-league second team that season.
Hence, heading into this year, it was obvious that Norris — despite being a floor general — would also have to look for his own shot more, as six of the top seven scorers from the previous year’s squad had graduated.
“It was a little rough at first,” Norris said of the transition. “You kind of look to those other guys, but then just one year later, you’re the leader.”
Following a promising nonleague start that saw Norris capture the Tournament MVP award at the Atascadero Christmas Classic, the Greyhounds stumbled out of the gate at 1-3 in PAC 7 play, including a 76-43 loss to Righetti. After that, though, they closed their league slate 6-2. Nearly a month after the lopsided first encounter with the Warriors — the eventual PAC 7 champion — Atascadero stunned them 63-62, as Norris drilled a 3-pointer from halfcourt as the buzzer sounded.
“As soon as he let it go, you could see it was straight as an arrow,” Righetti coach Kevin Barbarick lamented.
That 34-point turnaround from the teams’ previous encounter signaled the “switch” in the Greyhounds’ season, Tamelier said. Atascadero, which last reached a division semifinal in 2003, is in position to bring back nine players for next year, including a gritty trio of senior-to-be post players in Sean Slavin, Taylor Hendrickson and Weston Walker, as well as shooting guard Hayden Mislavsky, who saw significant time as a sophomore.
“My teammates did a really good job,” Norris said. “We came together and started trusting each other more.”
The quickest Atascadero player ever?USC has expressed interest in Norris, as have San Diego State and Pepperdine. He may, however, end up pursuing college football, for which UNLV and Iowa State, among others, have contacted him. This past season on the gridiron, he led the PAC 7 with five interceptions returned for 116 yards, en route to all-league and all-county first-team defensive back status, and also ran back 13 kicks for a 31.2-yard average.
For now, Norris said, he hasn’t decided which sport is his favorite.
“I get that a lot,” he laughed. “It’s going to be a complicated decision.”
Tamelier, who just finished his 27th year coaching the Greyhounds, can recall only one player during his tenure who rivaled Norris’ quickness — 1993 grad Kenny McMurray, an Atascadero Hall of Famer.
“And I don’t even know on that one,” Tamelier chuckled. “I think Troy might be a little more explosive.”
Tamelier can vividly recall an instance in a 69-63 second-round playoff win over Tustin a year ago when Norris blocked a shot with his head at rim level.
“With Troy, it’s kind of an instinctual explosiveness,” Tamelier said. “It just comes as a natural reflex in games, in the moment. He does things where there isn’t any drill to teach it.”
Tribune's All-County Teams
Player of the Year: Troy Norris, Atascadero, G, Jr.
First TeamDerick Beasley, Arroyo Grande, F, Sr.Michael Escobedo, Arroyo Grande, G, Sr.Kevin Laird, Mission Prep, F, Sr.Sean Mullen, San Luis Obispo, C, Jr.Lonnie Watson, Paso Robles, G, Sr.
Second TeamJoe Agbo, San Luis Obispo, G, Sr.Josh Feld, North County Christian, F, Sr.Cheyne Hayes, Paso Robles, F, Sr.Matt McAustin, Arroyo Grande, G, Sr.Jeff McNeil, Nipomo, G, Sr.Matt O’Connell, Atascadero, F, Sr.
Honorable MentionArroyo Grande: Kyle Kleinsmith, F, Jr.Atascadero: Sam McMillan, G, Sr., Hayden Mislavsky, G, So.Mission Prep: Art Lane, F, Jr.Morro Bay: Edward Griley, C, So.Nipomo: Jonathan Fisher, F, Sr.Paso Robles: Brandon Todd, C, Sr.San Luis Obispo: Steve Sainsbury, F, Jr.Templeton: Jordan Hattar, G, Sr., Dakota Oropeza, F, Sr.