Q+A: Norris Cole
From Dayton to Dade.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
Unlike his famous teammate from Ohio, a career in the NBA never seemed predestined for rookie guard Norris Cole. The multi-sport high school athlete took advantage of an opportunity to play Division I basketball for Cleveland State and parlayed it into a first-round selection in the 2011 Draft.
Cole, by way of Chicago and Minnesota, ended up on a Heat team hungry to erase the memory of last season’s loss to Dallas in the NBA Finals. For a Draft pick, it is often daunting to make a mark on a struggling franchise, but it is probably harder to make an impact on a Championship-caliber team. But Norris Cole has done exactly that.
In his second career game, Cole erupted for 20 points against the Celtics to give Miami the win at home. He has continued to earn playing time, providing steady depth and valuable minutes for one of the top teams in the league. Averaging over 20 minutes and eight points, Cole is soaking in the game both on and off the court. He credits his veteran teammates for giving him insight and well-rounded guidance regarding how to be a successful pro.
While Cole won’t get a chance to participate in this year’s Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend, he is hoping to contribute when it counts—in May and June.
SLAM: You almost went to college on a football scholarship, what was it like to decide to attend Cleveland State for basketball?
Norris Cole: Well, I knew what I ultimately wanted to do. I wanted to play basketball and give myself a chance to play professionally and Cleveland State and Coach Waters, playing Division I was my best chance. And I think it worked out well for me.
SLAM: So basketball was always your first love?
NC: Not really, I played every sport, so whatever the season was, that’s what I liked to do. Summertime I liked baseball and track, wintertime I loved basketball, fall I loved football, but I had to make a choice on what I wanted to do, and I chose basketball.
SLAM: What position did you play in baseball?
NC: Second base.
SLAM: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue basketball professionally?
NC: That was my ultimate goal.
SLAM: Even through high school, when you played all those other sports?
NC: Yes. I wanted to be a professional athlete, period. It was just a matter of what sport I wanted to try it in, and I felt basketball I had the best chance.
SLAM: Growing up in Ohio, how closely did you follow the career of LeBron James?
NC: Very closely. I’ve been knowing about him since he was a junior or senior in high school. I’ve been following him since then, knew everything about him [laughs]. I’ve been knowing him for a long time.
SLAM: There must have been so much fandom surrounding him in Ohio, he was everyone’s favorite player?
NC: In Ohio, basically everybody loved him. Probably everybody still loves him, they just won’t admit it [laughs].
SLAM: So were you a Cavaliers fan?
NC: I was a LeBron fan. When he went to the Heat, I started liking the Heat.
SLAM: What was it like for you watching the Decision—you were just going to support him wherever he decided to play?
NC: Yeah, it didn’t matter to me. It didn’t matter at all. I was just watching—I was interested to know where he was gonna go. It didn’t really matter to me.
SLAM: Which team did you root for growing up?
NC: The Bulls, Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan fan growing up.
SLAM: I heard LeBron was one of the first to reach out to you after the draft.
NC: Yes, he called me, asked if I was in the area cause he knew I was from Ohio and I went to school in Cleveland. So he asked was I in the area, and I told him yeah. He invited me to come work out at his house.
SLAM: What was it like working out with him, what did you learn?
NC: I just wanted to see how an All-Star, how an Olympic, elite athlete works out. I watched his drills that we did, we all went through. I learned how a professional athlete works out in the offseason to hone their craft.
SLAM: So how tired were you after those first couple of workouts?
NC: Well, I was in good shape because I had been working out too. So I was fine, but it was a good workout. He gets up a lot of shots, working on his footwork. He’s very efficient with his time in there, not a lot of wasted time, wasted motion, so it’s very efficient.
SLAM: You have so much confidence on the court so early in your career. What can you attribute that to?
NC: Just being a competitor. My family, they never let me be timid. They told me I didn’t have to back down and be timid of anybody. They said as long as you put the work in, put the time in, you should expect good results. You shouldn’t go out there and expect to fail if you’ve trained and worked hard. So that’s how I look at it, if I put a lot of work into something, I’m gonna feel confident that I should have good results come from it.
SLAM: You’ve shined a lot in some games this season. How good did it feel to have those experiences?
NC: It felt good, you know you work your whole life to get to this point to the NBA. To finally have a breakout [performance], and do something and be recognized for it, it felt good.
SLAM: What adjustments have you had to make so far in the NBA?
NC: Different teams like to do different things, so I’m learning how to adjust my game to different strategies, how to read defenses, change tempo, things like that.
SLAM: You’re playing with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem—guys who have done everything from winning a Championship to making multiple All-Star appearances. What have you learned from being on a team with players of that caliber?
NC: How to be a professional, ’cause those guys are very professional. As much as they’re in the spotlight, they’re very professional. They continue to work hard even though they get praised and get a lot of accolades. They continue to work hard, come in, come to work every day. They take care of their family off the court. So how to be a good overall professional, I think people don’t understand how important that is, and those guys are ultimate professionals.
SLAM: Have you taken any advice to heart that they’ve given you?
NC: I take everything they say to heart. There’s not a lot that I don’t remember them telling me. I remember just about everything they tell me on the court and off the court. That’s the thing that I like, they don’t just talk about basketball, basketball, basketball. When it’s time to play basketball, we talk about basketball. Off the court, they teach you about how to save your money, what decisions to make, what decisions not to make.
SLAM: Have you had any welcome to the NBA moments so far, anything funny?
NC: Not really, of course the rookie treatment, you know carry their bags, but other than that, not really. Playing against the top players obviously was great, getting to play against Derrick Rose, Chris Paul—point guards who I used to watch on TV, now I’m getting to go against them every night, so that’s great.
SLAM: Did you expect immediate success for yourself? Did you come in, even after being drafted 28th, thinking you can make an impact right away?
NC: I wanted to make an impact right away. Whether you would do it or not, no one really knows. Of course I had the goal to come in and be a successful player and impact this team. That’s how this team is, they don’t bring you in unless you can bring something to the table in the NBA. So if you can’t bring something to the table, you won’t be in this league very long, so I wanted to make sure that I brought something to the table right away and that they noticed.
SLAM: A lot of people were upset you weren’t selected to the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend. Were you disappointed you weren’t selected?
NC: Of course I wanted to go, but I’m not bitter at anybody like that. I wanted to go, but my ultimate goal is to help this team win a championship so that’s my total focus right now. I hope those guys enjoy that experience, of course I’ll work hard to try to be in it next year. I’m not bitter or anything. Of course as a competitor, though, I wanted to be in it.
SLAM: It must have felt good to hear people talk about how you’ve made contributions to a winning team vs guys getting minutes and putting up stats on struggling teams.
NC: Oh definitely. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. Learning my role here, learning how to play in a system, playing with a lot of talent. I think that’s helping my skill set a lot because in college, I was that guy that played all the minutes, that shot all the balls, and did all that. And coming here [is] teaching me how to be a better professional point guard, and that doesn’t entitle me having to dominate the ball all the time, and doesn’t entitle me having to take the majority of the shots. So I’m learning that everyday here.
SLAM: Are you going to check out Orlando during the All-Star break since it’s so close to Miami?
NC: I think I’m gonna go home—I might go home. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I haven’t seen my grandmothers in a while, so I think I might go back home and see them.
SLAM: I’m sure everyone at home is really proud—do you get a lot of texts, phone calls every night?
NC: Definitely, definitely. Yup, and they come to my games. That’s the great thing about my family, they’re willing to come and see me play.
SLAM: Is there anything you want people to know about you as a person or a player that they may not know?
NC: I think most people know who I am—Norris Cole from Dayton, Cleveland State. I’m a competitor, I’m not afraid. I love my family, and I love Christ.
SLAM: If people take one thing from watching you play—what do you want them to remember?
NC: He’s a two-way player. He affects the game on offense, he affects the game on defense.