by Jake Fischer / @JakeLFischer
If you had no idea who Norvel Pelle was when he showed up on your TV during the 2013 NBA Draft Combine in late May, don’t worry, you weren’t alone. Los Angeles College Prep Academy head coach Michael Miller didn’t have the slightest clue who Pelle was when he first met him, either.
“He walked in the door in December,” Miller said. “I thought, Who is this tall guy sitting behind our bench at a game? I didn’t know who he was. He was just a tall guy with glasses, he just showed up out of nowhere.”
But Pelle, a 6-10, 207-pound NBA Draft prospect, took a long road to even appear on LACPA’s doorstep.
In 2007, at the beginning of his freshman basketball season at Lakewood (CA) High School, Pelle was already considered one of the top prospects in the Class of 2011. Pelle’s on-court potential was limitless, but he struggled in the classroom. He transferred to Compton Dominguez High School for his sophomore year before spending his final two years of high school at Los Angeles Price.
Despite his troublesome academic history, he was still ranked as the top center in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com and schools were lining up to offer him a scholarship. Pelle says that by the summer after his junior year of high school, he had already received offers from Washington, UConn, UNLV, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Oregon State, Florida State, Arizona and several others.
“It was more because of AAU,” said Pelle, who balled for the Compton Magic. “I was actually the youngest on my team, but I held my own against the best and that’s what really put me on the map.”
On November 11, 2010, Pelle committed to join Steve Lavin and the St. John’s Red Storm. Then, on September 15, 2011 the NCAA ruled Pelle and two other incoming freshmen academically ineligible for the ’11-12 season. He began taking classes at Malvern Prep in Philadelphia, but just a year and five days after he committed, Pelle decomitted from St. John’s, returned to the West Coast.
“Right after I was supposed to go to St. Johns, I came back home because my mother was sick,” Pelle said. “That’s when I enrolled in Stoneridge Prep.”
His semester at Stoneridge was one last attempt to qualify for the NCAA. Even then schools were still interested in his services, they believed his academic troubles were worth his potential on the court. A year removed from high school and competitive, organized game action, Pelle received offers from Iowa State, San Diego State and DePaul before ultimately committing to Iona on August 24, 2012. But Pelle failed again to satisfy the NCAA’s requirements and was forced to watch Iona reach the NCAA Tournament without him.
Instead of giving up on his basketball career, Pelle didn’t give up on his life-long dream to eventually play in the NBA. As the big man watched Iona in the NCAA Tournament, he became even more driven. After the Iona plan came up short, Pelle went out of his way to introduce himself to Miller at LACPA. A week after first appearing at an LACPA game, Pelle was in the gym working with Miller and the rest of the team’s players.
“I had to go the prep school route at first and then I was just sitting around waiting so I decided to reach out to coach Miller,” Pelle said. “It just got me back into playing. Got me back into the groove of things. Got me back into the whole coaching aspect. It was more of getting back than anything.”
Miller has been coaching at LACPA for five years, a basketball-only institution dedicated to help student-athletes prepare both academically and athletically for the collegiate level. Right away, he saw an NBA athlete in his practice.
“The first practice that he participated in, I thought he had NBA talent, absolutely,” Miller remembers. “The thing that stood out the first day, we were doing a hedging drill. He was able to hedge so quickly and for a guy that’s 6-11 (in shoes). He was able to get so low to the ground and was just like a spider he was all over the place, arms and legs. When I saw that I said that was an NBA hedge if I’d ever say one.”
Pelle also thinks he’s ready for the League. That’s why he entered his name into this month’s Draft in April. But after basically disappearing from basketball for two years, why is Pelle still on the NBA’s radar?
“I think because I was a highly recruited big man in high school and the fact that I didn’t go to St. John’s and I kind of disappeared for a few years,” Pelle said. “Everybody just kind of wants to know what’s going on. A lot of teams are interested in me. My game has very much of an upside and most teams are looking at what’s going on the last two years to understand that upside.”
Scouts got their first look at him at the Draft Combine in Chicago, an event which Pelle was honored to be a part of.
“It was a great experience and a major accomplishment based on the fact that I have no game film on me, I didn’t go to college,” Pelle said. “To go from prep school to the NBA Combine was just a great accomplishment.”
Following his workouts in which Pelle showed his tremendous athletic ability, he says he interviewed with New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Miami, Portland, Houston and Orlando.
Now the question is if NBA scouts see in Pelle what Miller did. One scout, who has seen him workout in recent weeks, said that Pelle needs to get stronger, more disciplined and add a lot more consistency to his jumper. Pelle recognizes his flaws, too.
“I need to work on my post moves, my jump shot, my ball handling and I need to get stronger,” he admits. “I’m trying to get to 225. I think I can do that before Summer League.”
How can he gain 18 pounds in the two months between the Combine and a league in either Las Vegas or Orlando?
“I started a little regimen in May where I have to eat every two hours,” Pelle explained. “So it’s getting there. I just eat something, anything, honestly. It’s a lot of weight-gaining food, a lot of carbs. This is all on me. I just eat every two hours and workout two times a day. It was a difficult adjustment. I’ve definitely gained some weight and my metabolism is getting to where I want it to be.”
In preparation for the Draft, Pelle is working out at the Spectrum in El Segundo, CA. He does strength and conditioning with Robbie Davis and Basketball Training with Tyrell Jamerson. He’s fighting for his dream to come true. If it eventually does, the entire basketball world may one day know who Pelle is.