The college kid in Norris Cole thought it was cool.
When he grew out a hi-top fade his senior year at Cleveland State, he became a fan favorite because of the old-school hairdo. Now, like most graduates, the fun is over.
Time to get serious.
The late 1980s hair has been chopped off, replaced with a more professional low-trimmed look. On Thursday, he celebrated with friends and family after being selected by the Miami Heat with the 28th pick of the first round in the NBA Draft. On Friday, his first chance to speak with the local media, he sounded all business.
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“The point behind it (the haircut) was I wanted to do something different for my senior year,” Norris said. “I wanted to have a standout senior year. My father had a hi-top fade when I was growing up. I call it a “box cut.” I tried it. I was playing good so I didn’t want to cut it. Everyone seemed to start to like it, but I cut it off. It’s time for a new phase, the next phase of my life. I cut it off, got a fresh cut and a fresh start. I’m ready to come to Miami to work.”
That explains why the Heat were eager enough to trade up three spots to draft Norris, who they acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves for second-round pick Bojan Bogdanovic and a second-rounder in 2014.
“This is a player that we had targeted,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “We had him on the board early. There was a consensus that this was the player we wanted to take. We didn’t want to get left at the altar.”
The Heat are hoping Norris provides depth at point guard behind starter Mario Chalmers. Speed and defense are the areas his impact is expected the most. Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said those are Cole’s biggest strengths.
He led the Vikings’ up-tempo offense for three seasons, becoming a defensive-stopper along the way. It began before his sophomore season when the team played in a summer league in Spain. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Norris defended the shooting guards during the trip, holding his own against the likes of Ricky Rubio, the fifth pick in the 2009 Draft.
“That helped me a lot,” Cole said. “On that team, my sophomore year, the missing link was the perimeter defender. So coach told me he didn’t mind me scoring but my key role that year was to be able to defend the best perimeter player.”
Cole ended his collegiate career as the school’s all-time leader in games played (140), consecutive starts (105) and minutes (4,114). He also finished as the third all-time leading scorer with 1,978 points, winning Horizon Player of the Year honors last season.
The production was all a bonus for Cole, who was lightly recruited out of high school. He was a teammate of former Heat player Daequan Cook at Dunbar High in Dayton, Ohio. With Cook receiving most of the attention from college coaches, Cole went vunnoticed.
He verbally committed to Walsh University, an NAIA school in Ohio. On his recruiting visit, the entire school wore T-shirts with Cole’s face on it because they realized his talents.
Midway through his senior season, so did other schools in the area.
At the urging of his high school coach, Cole reopened his recruitment. He eventually landed at Cleveland State, where he became a starter early into his sophomore season. That year he recorded the highlight of his career on the court he will call home the next few years.
He led the No. 13-seeded Vikings to an upset of No. 4 Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at AmericanAirlines Arena. Cole scored 22 points while outplaying Wake Forest guard and future lottery pick Jeff Teague.
“The last 20 hours, it’s been exciting,” Cole said. “I’ve spent the whole time with my family, thinking just to have the opportunity to play in the NBA. Then when the trade went down, waiting for it to become official to play in Miami, it was exciting. Playing there my sophomore and winning the NCAA Tournament (game), it comes around full circle. It makes that game that much more special.”
Cole is just Cleveland State’s third first-round selection, joining Franklin Edwards (1981) and Darren Tillis (1982). He appeared unfazed about leaving Cleveland for the glitz of South Florida to play alongside LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Cole somewhat got a taste of popularity when his vintage haircut turned him into a underground icon. There are blog posts that call him “Kid N Play,” in reference to the rap group with similar hairstyles. There are message-board threads titled “Norris Cole hi-top fade appreciation,” but a gimmick was unnecessary to bring attention.
He scored double-figures in every game last season, shooting 43.9 percent from the field. Cole posted one of the best individual stat lines of the year when he had 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists against Youngstown State.
He reached that point with a work ethic his college coach still idolizes. Waters tells one story of Cole approaching him before last season. Cole convinced the coach to force the players to remain on campus the entire summer instead of staying just the first session.
Waters warned that the coaching staff would be unavailable in July because of recruiting commitments, but Cole offered to serve as the organizer. He woke up the players daily at 7 a.m., led individual drills at 4 p.m., and gathered them for summer-league play in the evenings.
“He even said he’d make sure everyone would eat three meals a day,” Waters said. “I’m dying for one of the guys on the team to come up to me now and say that. He’s a special kid. I don’t think I’ll ever have another one like him.”