NBA PM: Cole Brings Football to the Hardwood
Encumbered by three enormous contracts, Miami HEAT President Pat Riley didn’t have the cap space to sign a veteran point guard this offseason. Instead, the coaching and front office legend had to get creative to effectively conjure a solid player out of thin air.
Riley sent the 31st overall pick, Bojan Bogdanovic, and a future second-round pick to Minnesota for a little-known guard from Cleveland State named Norris Cole. In the process, the HEAT not only acquired another much-needed basketball player, but a pretty good football player as well.
“He’s fearless,” veteran Shane Battier told HOOPSWORLD of Cole. “For a guy that’s a little smaller, he goes in there unafraid of the big boys down there. I’m going to attribute that to a football upbringing.”
Cole comes from a football-first family in a football-first state (Ohio) and prior to his senior year of high school, hadn’t given much serious thought about playing basketball at the next level.
“My family, they all played football,” Cole told HOOPSWORLD. “They played multiple sports, but the one constant that most of my family played was football, so it was like a natural gene to play football.”
But at 6-2, 170 pounds, Cole—who is cousins with Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Trent Cole—didn’t get the scholarship offers he was hoping for. He had hoped to play quarterback or wide receiver at the next level, but decided to give basketball his full attention when recruiters began noticing his skills on the hardwood.
“I felt that my pro potential was better in basketball and I wanted to be a professional athlete,” he said. “I could have played college football with a smaller Division I (program), but I wanted to play basketball and give it a shot.”
The problem was, not many people outside of the Buckeye State had heard of Cole. He averaged just 14.4 minutes per game as a freshman at Cleveland State, but saw that number jump to 32.8 as a sophomore. As a senior he scored 21.7 PPG and despite his small frame managed to grab 5.8 RPG. And even though he was never an amazing 3-point shooter (34.2% from beyond the arc over his junior and senior seasons), Cole could always drive the lane because he wasn’t scared of bigger athletes.
“I didn’t focus totally on basketball until I got to college so maybe if I had focused on basketball totally I would have been ready earlier,” he said. “But you know I think everything happens for a reason and I think playing those other sports have helped me to develop into the player that I am right now.
“You don’t worry about getting hit and stuff like that when you’ve played football before,” he continued. “When you play football, certain contact you don’t worry about because if you can take it on the football field, you can take it on the basketball court. So it does give you some sort of aggression, not to shy away from contact.”
Cole is averaging 10.9 PPG off the bench this season, but it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a starter in this league. Much like former 76ers star Allen Iverson—a legendary high school quarterback in Virginia—Cole selflessly puts himself in harms way without being asked. By doing that, Cole not only scores, but gets to the free throw line (7.4 attempts per game as a senior) and rebounds as well (he once grabbed 20 boards in a college game).
And because of his intense, sometimes reckless style of play, he’s naturally drawn comparisons to another young point guard who was asked to play with three NBA superstars—Celtics star Rajon Rondo.
“Actually some people mentioned it to me, but I watch basketball a lot,” Cole said. “In my mind I want to become a player like that where I can have an impact on the court while yet you still have three other All-Stars on the team and eventually I want to get to the point where I can be considered like that.”
Before Cole can make the same successful transition that Rondo has made, he needs to better understand the nuances of the game. That means learning to deal with even bigger athletes, knowing when to push the tempo and improving his outside shot.
“It’s different from the fact that you don’t really pressure it full court,” Cole said on the difference between college and the NBA. “In this league the players are so much bigger and so much more gifted. The speed of the game and the conditioning part of game, the distance from three is an adjustment.
“I thought I would be fine,” Cole said of NBA 3-point range. “I didn’t worry about it I’m the type of guy where the more reps I get of something the better I’m going to be… I know as long as I put the time in it’s going to be fine.”
As HOOPSWORLD NBA writer Stephen Litel wrote about Cole, the HEAT veterans are already completely behind the rookie. Some of that has to do with his studious nature (he was the salutatorian of his class at Dunbar High School in Dayton, OH) or his gregarious demeanor, but for players who are sick of seeing long-term projects walking onto NBA rosters, the fact that Cole is a four-year college player is making a difference.
“If you are well coached for four years of college, you come in the league, you have a better chance of picking up things quickly,” Battier said. “He was able to come in and pick up things very quickly. He had a great coach at Cleveland State (Gary Waters) and I don’t think too many people get credit or applauded for staying for four years, but I think in this case it helped him.”
In reality, it may have taken Cole four years to really become a basketball player. His football roots aren’t going anywhere, but the fact that he showed the patience and diligence on the hardwood speaks volumes about the rookie’s future—and that of the Miami HEAT.
Mavericks Finally Get Their White House Visit
It took a little while, but the Dallas Mavericks finally made it to the White House where they met President Barack Obama (here’s a link to the Associated Press story). The 2010-2011 NBA Champions were prevented from visiting during the lockout, but even though their schedule is packed, owner Mark Cuban insisted his team get this opportunity.
“It’s tough to say no to Mark Cuban,” Obama said.
Delonte West (who was not on last year’s Mavericks team but did sign before the season) did not attend, but the Secret Service insists he would have been cleared along with his teammates. West had claimed earlier that he wasn’t allowed to go, but may have been mistaken.
Check Out: Back-to-Back-to-Back Success
The Associated Press made an astute observation on Monday. Teams that are playing in the dreaded third game in three nights have gone 6-0 so far this year.
Many people feared the worst when they saw the compacted NBA schedule, but apparently it hasn’t been as much of a problem as many people anticipated.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to inn sure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.
NBA Chats: If you are looking for the next NBA Chat, you can find them here: Upcoming NBA Chats.