Nolan gradually settles into the Dunbar way of things Ex-Milford Mill star might face old team

February 21, 1993|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,Contributing Writer

It begins at 6 a.m. with the ringing of the alarm clock. By 6:15, out of the bed and in the bathroom. An hour remains to get out the door.

At 7:15, at a bus stop on Liberty Road in the Lochearn area of Baltimore County. A witness to the morning traffic rush in the chill of the winter air. On a bus to the subway, then a 15-minute ride to downtown Baltimore.

Around 8:10, Norman Nolan is off of the bus in East Baltimore and entering Dunbar High. He says that the travel wasn't a major adjustment. His day began at the same time when he was attending Milford Mill.

Not much else has been similar. Criticism in the newspapers and on the radio followed him in the fall when the 6-foot-7 junior center changed schools. His transfer sparked debate over athletes changing schools.

This past week marked five months since Nolan's first day at Dunbar. Even with all the attention that it brought, negative and positive, he has no regrets.

"Most definitely," said Nolan when asked during practice on Wednesday. "I like it here at Dunbar.

"I was expecting a big fuss of why I transferred and people trying to stop me. But as far as coming down here, I feel as though if I believe in myself, I can do anything I put my mind to."

That was clear in the final two games at the state tournament at the University of Maryland last season, when Nolan, with an injured left wrist, totaled 54 points, 25 rebounds and eight blocked shots in leading Milford Mill to the state Class 1A title.

Those performances capped a season in which he averaged 21.7 points, 15.4 rebounds and 3.9 blocks and was a first-team All-Metro selection.

In his first season with Dunbar, he's averaging 16.5 points and 13.3 rebounds. While his numbers are respectable, it has been a series of adjustments for Nolan.

"It has been a gradual process," said Dunbar coach Pete Pompey. "He came into a situation where he's not the man. He's playing with and against the kids that are equal to him talent-wise."

Other than two matchups last season with Overlea's Bernard Hopkins, who is now at Hagerstown Community College after also being selected first-team All-Metro, Nolan dominated opposing players with little effort. That hasn't been the case at Dunbar, where games are played before large crowds and often have national significance.

His first major test occurred Dec. 8 against then-nationally ranked St. Raymond's of New York, in the finale of the Charm City/Big Apple Challenge at the Baltimore Arena. He scored 16 points, including a game-tying three-point play with 6.5 seconds remaining in overtime. Teammate Keith Booth stole the ensuing inbounds pass and later hit two free throws for a 61-59 victory.

"He has made a great adjustment coming into the city from the county," said Booth. "He has proven himself since Day 1. He has played and worked hard. He's definitely one of the three best players in the state."

At the first practices in November, that wasn't the case. Nolan got off to a slow start, and a spot as a starter was in doubt.

Said Pompey, "I think he saw when we started practice that there could be some problems and he said, 'I got to get myself on the ball if I want to start on this team because there are some pretty good players around me.' Michael Cooper and Alexander Mobley, and at the time, we were looking at possibly Robert Foster, Eric McNeil and/or Rodney Elliott.

"It looked like it might have been a problem. But he assessed the situation after the first day of practice and he started to work hard at his game and do the things that I've asked him to do."

Being the new kid in school, Nolan has taken his share of teasing. Booth said Nolan really got it about wearing sweat pants with elastic at school. Nolan now wears regular straight-legged pants.

In the coming weeks, Nolan will be attempting to accomplish a rare feat: winning state titles with different teams. The odds are that he will have to play his old team in the Region II playoffs. He keeps in contact with his former teammates and is looking forward to playing them.

"It was great," Nolan said of his two seasons at Milford Mill. "I had no complaints about it. It was just the level of competition that we were playing against. I felt that I needed to develop my game more.

"I'm going to love playing against them. A lot of us still keep in contact and we have talked a lot of trash."

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