Advertisement

Work ethic the key to Norfleet's success

Three different coaches have guided Mount St. Mary's to the NCAA tournament a total of four times in the past two decades, with all manner of teams.

One common thread runs through all four, however. An All-Northeast Conference point guard.

The three previous playmakers to lead the Mount to the D-I dance, Riley Inge in 1995, Gregory Harris in 1999 and Jeremy Goode in 2008, all arrived at Emmitsburg as polished points and started at the position essentially from Day One.

Not Julian Norfleet.

Norfleet, a second-team All-NEC selection this season, named to the All-NEC Tournament team on Tuesday night, came to the Mount as a shooting guard.

He changed spots when the team needed him to and turned himself into one of the top point guards in the league the old-fashioned way.

"He's just had a tremendous work ethic," second-year MSM coach Jamion Christian said. "And what you see now is probably one of the best point guards in the NCAA tournament."

"I was very confident coming into this year that all the hard work I did over the summer was going to pay off," Norfleet said. "It's just a tremendous feeling knowing the work didn't go to waste, and I was able to help us win a championship."

•••

Norfleet was mostly a shooting guard at Landstown High in his native Virginia Beach. During his senior season, when he averaged 15 points per game and was named Beach District Player of the Year, he had to move over to point guard because of an injury. He had visited Alabama-Birmingham and most college coaches assumed he was headed there, so he was lightly recruited despite good statistics and a lot of team success.

When he still didn't have a school as summer neared, then-Mount coach Robert Burke offered him a scholarship and he took it. Despite an up-and-down four years at the Mount, it's a decision he never regretted.

Norfleet had a solid freshman year, starting every game but one and averaging 9.3 points per game, and he was even better as a sophomore, scoring a team-best 13.7 points per game.

But the Mountaineers weren't very good, going 19-42. Even with all the losing and even with Burke's resignation at the end of that second season, Norfleet said he didn't considered transferring.

"I never really thought about leaving - the community here accepted me and they love me," he said. "I knew I was going to stay here regardless of who the next coach was."

Turns out, the next coach was already familiar with Norfleet. Christian was an assistant at William & Mary when he first saw a 16-year-old Norfleet play in high school.

"I remember Julian being more of a combo than a point guard, but he just had the ability to get in the lane," Christian recalled. "He was very frail and skinny at the time. I was really happy when I got a chance to come here and coach him. You could tell he was a guy who was really determined and really wanted to be a good player."

•••

Norfleet began his junior year on the wing filling in occasionally for starting point guard Josh Castellanos. But Castellanos got hurt. Norfleet took over and played so well that the incumbent never got his starting spot back.

"Incredible," said fifth-year senior Kristijan Krajina, who tore a ligament in his knee early in the season but has watched Norfleet's entire career at the Mount. "He came from being a straight, spot-up shooter freshman year to taking Josh Castellanos' spot and this year developing it. Over the summertime he worked on his handle and now nobody can take it away from him."

Ah, the summer. It's too hot during the day to practice in the ancient Memorial Gym on the campus of Mount St. Mary's, so Norfleet would wait until the sun went down to wear out the hardwood.

"I didn't really focus on shooting and jump shots, I focused on my ballhandling," Norfleet said.

He did drills with basketballs that weighed 5-10 pounds heavier than a regular ball. He also did drills with tennis balls. By the time practice began he was a different player.

"He just put so much work and heart and hard effort into becoming a point guard, understanding what our team needed," fellow senior Sam Prescott said.

That effort continued throughout the season. After one game, Christian noted that Norfleet dove to the court for more balls that night than in the entire two years' worth of film he'd watched from Norfleet's freshman and sophomore seasons.

"When we got here, he had been the man for two years. And I had to basically tell him, look, we need you to be the man, but we need you to be unselfish," the coach said. "I think that's sometimes hard for kids. He made a great adjustment. He said, 'Look coach, I'm going to do whatever it takes for us to win' - including getting in the ice bath sometimes, which he hates.

"He started taking better care of his body, started watching more film."

And getting results.

•••

On a young and injured team, Norfleet had to do a lot of scoring early in the season.

Still a deadeye shooter who can also drive the lane, Norfleet tallied at least 20 points eight times in the first 16 games. He had 28 points at UMBC. He had 20 in the second half alone at UMES. He had a career-high 31 points and 10 assists in front of many friends and family members at Norfolk State. Perhaps in his best game of all, he scored 28, to go with six rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block against Wagner.

As the younger players grew into their roles, and backcourt mate Rashad Whack turned into one of the top scorers in the league, Norfleet has been more of a distributor while remaining a remarkably consistent scorer. He has had 16 or 17 points in his past six games. He has averaged more than five assists over that span while committing two turnovers or fewer in four of them.

For the season, he's averaging career highs of 17.5 points and 5.5 assists. And he's the leader of the team that just went 3-0 in the NEC tournament.

"I would say I did an excellent job - we won a championship," he said.

Whack and Prescott transferred into the Mount and were able to practice but not play in games with the team during Norfleet's sophomore year. Whack liked what he saw out of Norfleet then and has only grown to appreciate him more since.

"It was hard for us to watch him go out there every night and lay it all out on the floor and come up with some tough losses. We were just so ready to help him," Whack said. "I can say, this is Julian's team. He's done a good job leading this team and ... his game went to another level. I'm just glad I can say he's my teammate. And my friend."

•••

Norfleet's place in Mount history is secure, right along with Inge, Harris and Goode. He ranks 14th in scoring, needing just two points to reach 1,600 for his career. He is eighth in assists with 414. He ranks fourth in 3-pointers with 241. And he has logged more than 4,000 minutes, fourth in the D-I era. Plus, this week, he'll cap his career by playing in the NCAA tournament.

When informed of where he stands on some of those lists, he took a moment to reflect: "There's been a lot of great players - this program's been around for about a century - so just to have a place in that, to be in the discussion, is an honor."

He says it couldn't have happened without all those hours in the gym, something he learned, in part, from his father Darryl, himself a former college point guard.

"Growing up, most of the time I was the worst player on my team. My dad, my parents, just stuck with me and told me you can do whatever you want if you work," he said. "I just kept working. To be in the place I am now is just tremendous."

Advertisement
Advertisement