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Oct. 6, 2014

Norris Cole Comes Home

Miami Heat Guard Norris Cole Serves as Homecoming Parade Grand Marshal

By Jordan Smith

Norris Cole, Vikings Basketball coach Gary Waters and Point Guard Charlie Lee.The 50th Anniversary homecoming celebrations at Cleveland State University saw the return of its favorite two-time NBA Championship winner. In a year dominated by headlines of another local basketball star’s return, Norris Cole made an appearance at the CSU Homecoming as Grand Marshall of the Parade of the Decades. During the VIP Luncheon in Fenn Tower 303 on September 19th, Cole was accompanied by his parents, Diane and and Norris Cole Sr. The party arrived just before the ceremonies began.

Norris and his family took their seats at the front table right in time for SGA President to welcome all those in attendance. The next speaker, President Berkman didn’t hesitate to share a story from his son about the Guest of Honor in attendance. President Berkman has a son, who is a sports editor for Maxim Magazine.

“How many people know what Maxim Magazine is? Just curious”, Berkman said onto the crowd.

Quite a few hands went into the air before he went onto explain how during a 40 minute one-on-one with Dwayne Wade, his son mentioned to Wade that his father is the President of Cleveland State. Wade instantly made the connection to Norris Cole, and according to President Berkman said the following:

“Norris came into the NBA and came to the Miami Heat at the most difficult time you could imagine coming into the NBA and coming to the Miami Heat number one. Number two, most of the kids, most of the draftees who come into the NBA are all skilled basketball players. The difference maker for who is successful in the NBA and whos not successful in the NBA are those college graduates with character and a desire to learn more about the game. Those are the two things that stand out about Norris and thats why his best days in the NBA are ahead of him.”

The President continued by saying, that character is why Norris and his family are here today and that character is what Norris inherited from his family and his coach. Soon it would be Norris’ turn on the podium. He began by thanking his family for their support, and by thanking Coach Waters for giving him an opportunity to play. He also thanked his teammates from his years at Cleveland State for allowing him to be a “special player” as he described it. The central theme behind his message down to him thanking his professors, was that academics were always primary his primary focus, while basketball took the backseat. He also made a point to note that his goals were to not only remain eligible but to excel in the classroom.

 “To the athletes take care of the academics.” he said. “And if you’re blessed and lucky enough you may become a professional athlete and if not you can still become a professional in society.”

After that, he expressed gratitude to Coach Waters once again for giving Norris an offer that no one else gave him.

“I was going to an NAIA school. Coach came and sat on my couch, talked to my mom and dad and he told em he’d give me a chance.” Cole stated.

After not starting his freshman year, he developed a mental toughness that came from learning some of life’s most difficult lessons.

“You can’t get everything at once. You have to have to learn the process.” he explained. He later described how difficult the Strength and Conditioning program which was. The grueling program lead up to Norris playing 12 minutes a game as a freshman backup. Cole described the situation as “tough”, but it taught him how to be a man.

 “Everything is not always sweet in life you have to be tough Its not how you respond when things are going well but its how you respond when things don’t go your way, its how you respond when you’re being challenged.”  which was how he concluded the speech.

Norris was born on October 13, 1988 in Dayton, Ohio. After winning consecutive state titles at Dunbar High School in Dayton, he made the choice to come to Cleveland State to play for Coach Gary Waters.

“We went and watched him in the state tournament and things like that and a friend of ours that was one of the coaches on the Dayton Dunbar staff called and said he has committed to an NAIA school and  he’s not an NAIA player, he’s a D1 player. So when I got a chance to go see him I had seen that potential in him” said Coach Waters.

Norris’ four years at Cleveland State was a maturation phase from beginning to end was described by Waters as “the best you could have.” Norris started off his freshman year  only getting 10-12 minutes a game while backing  up future Cleveland Cavalier,  Cedrick Jackson. During the last 8-9 games Norris got better in practice which lead to him getting more minutes by backing up the Shooting Guard as well as starting Point Guard. Sophomore year, Norris started at the 2 and backed up Ced at the point. Cole wound up being the teams leading scorer averaging 13 points per game. As a sophomore, Norris was also a key player in helping the Vikings land their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1986.

“When he was a junior I gave him the ball and he was running the show”,  Waters says.

After scoring over 30 points in 6 different games during his junior year, is when Coach Waters got an inclination that Norris had NBA potential. During a performance against Youngstown State in his senior year, Norris caught the attention of many by posting a 40-point, 20-rebound stat line. His senior year, the team finished the season with a loss to the College of Charleston in the NIT.

“Took him a year to learn to score and give everybody the ball and when his senior year came up it was automatic for him. By that time he had matured to become an NBA Player.” he says.

Coach Waters described Norris’ defining moment as the ESPN Bracketbuster matchup vs. Old Dominion, which was the second time that Norris went off for 30 points. Chicago Bulls Coach Tom Thibadeau was in attendance.

“Norris came up to me and said coach you gotta let me go off. You gotta let me gotta let me go off if you gonna have a chance.” he says.

Coach Waters watched Draft Night 2011 from Norris’ home in Dayton with Diane, and Norris Cole Sr. Norris was traded 28th overall by the Chicago Bulls who subsequently dealt him to the Minnesota Timberwolves who would send him to the Miami Heat before the night was over.

“Everybody jumped up excited and it was a shock because all along I had been speaking to Chicago and they had been asking me questions and they had been recruiting him asking once a week to find out about Norris, but I heard that Miami had been very interested in him as well,” Coach recalls.

Beginning his career in a Miami team lead LeBron James and Dwayne Wade was an ideal opportunity for Norris to learn from two of the best leaders the game has ever had to offer. Coach Waters describes Norris’ leadership as his most unsung characteristic.

“Thing I think has been hidden about Norris is the type of leader he is. He is an unbelievable leader. The success that CSU had at that time had a lot to do with the fact that he lead by character. He was verbal and he could show that he could lead through his actions as well.”

Within the course of a couple months, Norris Cole had gone from CSU Student Athlete to Miami Heat Point Guard. Cole described the transitional phase as very exciting because it allowed him to see all of his biggest dreams come to fruition. Norris loves coming back up to play. His first trip back was bittersweet for some due to the broken hearts of scorned Cleveland fans who had nothing but animosity towards LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates. Norris claims he was received well and had nothing but good remarks regarding his first homecoming. The support that he’d developed over his four-years at CSU all came out to support him as well.

“It was great coming back up to Cleveland. I love it everytime I come up here to play. I love it just to be able to see all the faces at Cleveland State [and] the support system that I’ve built up here over the years, its always fun to come back.”

Norris’ reaction when he got the news about LeBron’s return to the Cavaliers was met with mixed emotions. Northeast Ohio had regained another one of it’s homegrown talents, but Norris lost a teammate and a mentor.

“I was indifferent. I understood his reasoning. Obviously I would love him as my teammate but I understood his reasoning so I couldn’t be upset with him.”

Norris then went to take a few pictures with some of the luncheon attendees who were still in the Fenn Tower Ballroom, which was when I took the opportunity to speak to President Berkman about the local kid done good.

While explaining what Norris Cole means to Cleveland State University, President Berkman referenced Norris’ early years in the league. Given the Championship appearances the Miami Heat have recently made, Norris Cole has become a more of a household name for those who keep up with the NBA.

“The first two, three years when Norris played they’d always talk about Norris Cole from Cleveland State University. The word Cleveland State resonated throughout the national networks!” he said.

President Berkman then went on to describe how Norris felt about the University.

“He loves this institution. As you heard Coach Waters was the only one who gave him a chance to play Division 1 basketball. What an amazing story!”

Judging by the rousing applause he received at the Homecoming Parade of the Decades and by the never ending line of students lining up for pictures, the love Norris has for Cleveland State is mutual, and won’t be fading any time soon. Norris lead the Parade down E. 18th amid a flurry of confetti and cheers the way you would picture any hero making a return to their hometown would dream of. After  giving another speech at the end of the parade, he continued his tour of taking pictures and shaking hands with other alumni and current students. The two NBA championships seem to be the only thing that separates Norris Cole apart from any other alumni at Cleveland State. His humility, and willingness to share insight on his illustrious experiences thus far possibly mean just as much to the Cleveland State community as his Championship ring does, if not more.