BOISE – The latest addition to Zach Norvell Jr.’s greatest hits compilation came in the waning seconds Thursday against UNC Greensboro.
Gonzaga was staring at the possibility of a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament when Norvell coolly drilled a 23-footer with 20.8 seconds left to guide the Zags to a 68-64 win.
Robert Smith, Norvell’s prep coach at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, watched the play unfold on his computer screen and had a pretty good idea how it was going to end.
“It’s crazy because we run a play like that where he gets a ball screen on the side of the floor,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “I saw him do that jab step and said, ‘He’s going to shoot that.’
“That was nothing new. I saw that shot a lot of times in practice and in games, but on that stage that was really huge for him.”
Later that afternoon, another of Smith’s Simeon products, Donte Ingram, hit a 27-footer at the buzzer to lift Loyola-Chicago over Miami. Smith was busy working out his daughter in preparation for AAU tryouts, but learned of Ingram’s shot via text message from an assistant coach.
“It was one of the better days I’ve had in a while,” said Smith, who has been fielding reporters’ calls from across the country in the last 24 hours. “We lost in the Super sectional to go down to state a few days ago, so that made my day.”
Simeon won a state title in Norvell’s freshman season with Ingram, a junior, and senior Jabari Parker, who played one season at Duke before becoming the second pick overall of the 2014 NBA Draft.
“It’s a culture here. When the game is on the line we want the ball and want to take the shot, make or miss,” Smith said. “Those guys proved it can happen. I messaged Zach and Donte and told them I’m proud of them and the way they’re representing the school and the city.”
Norvell has made it a habit to hit clutch shots. He’s also made it a habit to shrug off shooting slumps before hitting those clutch shots. He misfired on his first seven shots, five from 3-point land, against BYU but made a 3 to break a 59-all tie. He stung San Diego twice, in Spokane with a 3-pointer that deflated a USD comeback, and on the road with a three-point play late, his second field goal in 10 attempts.
Norvell was scoreless against Creighton in the first half. He was 0 of 6 on 3s after bricking his first shot of the second half. By game’s end he made four 3s and scored 21 points.
“He’s been doing that all season,” point guard Josh Perkins shrugged of Norvell’s latest heroics.
It’s been an interesting 24 hours for Norvell, whose phone has been working overtime with texts and calls from friends. He’s been in touch with Parker, mainly because it was the Milwaukee Bucks forward’s birthday Thursday.
“He was really excited to see us get the win,” Norvell said. “He’s always there for me when I need answers.”
Norvell has “heard” he’s received marriage proposals on social media, but hasn’t seen them firsthand.
“I’m not a really big social media guy,” said Norvell, adding “not at all” when asked if he’d accepted the offers.
Norvell stays in contact with Smith, former Simeon teammates and keeps tabs on the current team.
“It’s never good when Simeon loses. They don’t do it too often, but they still had a good season,” Norvell said. “Hopefully, this kind of loosened up coach’s mood seeing two guys from Simeon make some shots.”
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