Kevin Norris says that it's just another Big East game, but his boyhood dreams say otherwise.
Norris is the sophomore point guard for Miami, which meets Georgetown today at noon at USAir Arena in Landover. When he starred at Lake Clifton High, Norris would fantasize about bringing the ball up-court in college for the Hoyas, not the Hurricanes.
"I never thought I'd be playing against Georgetown," Norris said. "I always dreamed of playing for them. I always wanted to be a Hoya, or maybe a [Maryland] Terrapin. I was sold on one of those two, or maybe going to George Washington, but then Coach Hamilton started talking."
Leonard Hamilton began coaching Miami in 1990, a year before the Hurricanes entered the Big East. Last season, Miami finished above .500 for the first time in the conference and had a winning overall mark for the first time since 1988-89, and Norris, who made the conference's all-rookie team, had plenty to do with it.
Six games into last season, Hamilton took a deep breath and gave the keys to Miami's offense to Norris, then a freshman. Norris has run the point for the Hurricanes ever since, and continued the education that began seven years ago, when Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore told the frenetic Norris to slow down, because his teammates couldn't keep up.
"When I was a freshman, Coach Moore used to sit me down for talks all the time," Norris said. "Basically, he said 'Look here, rookie daddy, when you're 25 years old, you can dance all you want. For now, keep it simple.' Every coach I've had ever since has basically been saying the same thing. They're just trying to help me."
The racehorse pace was more acceptable at Lake Clifton, where the 5-foot-9 Norris had an able running mate in cousin Shawnta Rogers, a 5-4 dervish who's starting for George Washington as a freshman.
After a year of prep school at Maine Central Institute and luke warm interest from the higher-profile programs closer to home, Norris headed as far south as he could on I-95. At Miami, he has been charged with directing a team that is trying to make do in the Big East without a Kerry Kittles or a Ray Allen or an Allen Iverson.
"We've improved our talent pool, but Stink [Norris's nickname] still doesn't have the luxury of doing all the things he wants to do," Hamilton said. "We don't play slow-down, but we don't play break-neck, either. It's not easy being a point guard at this level, but it's only a matter of time before he grasps all the aspects of being a point guard. Stink is still learning how to manage."
Norris is averaging a team-high 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals, but his scoring average is down to 4.8, and he said that a sophomore shooting slump has become "horrible." He made nearly 40 percent of his attempts in Big East games last year, but has hit just 28.4 percent during the first half of this season.
"Our whole team has been in a shooting slump," Hamilton said. "It's not just Kevin, and I haven't seen his confidence suffer any. We talk all the time. He understands how badly we need him. We're a team that needs a lot of direction, and that's Kevin's job."