Barcelona honored Audie Norris, a legendary center and current Sevilla assistant coach, in his return to Palau Blaugrana on Saturday.
Norris is one of the best American players in the history of Spanish basketball.
The native of Jackson, Mississippi played three seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers in the early ’80s and helped lead FC Barcelona to three Spanish league championships during his time with the club (1987-1993).
He received a standing ovation during an emotional pre-game ceremony.
Norris was a fan-favorite during his Barcelona days because of his physical play and friendly demeanor. Since retiring, he has maintained a strong presence within Spanish basketball.
He holds a camp for kids in Barcelona, and in Sevilla he is helping develop two of the most promising young big men in Europe — Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez.
Porzingis, 19, is a a projected top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, while DraftExpress.com ranks Hernangomez, 20, as the No. 1 international prospect in his age group.
Porzingis had 18 points and 5 rebounds in Saturday’s game, which drew several NBA executives, according to Chad Ford of ESPN.
Earlier this season, Hernangomez had his best game of the year against Barcelona, becoming the youngest player in league history to post at least 29 points and 13 rebounds in a game. However, he struggled on Saturday, finishing with just seven points and three rebounds.
Sevilla’s 20-year-old lefty point guard Nikola Radicevic put on a show in the second half, but Barcelona pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 99-83.
Amagar, engañar, anotar. Radicevic, el más listo de la clase http://t.co/CVOP3x90uu
— Liga Endesa (@ACBCOM) March 28, 2015
After the game, I caught up with Norris to talk about his time in Barcelona and the development of Sevilla’s young talent.
LosCrossovers.com: First of all, how did it feel to be back in the old stomping grounds?
Audie Norris: Man, it was very emotional. It felt great. I was more happy for the fans than for myself because, you know, I think they’ve been waiting on it a lot longer than I have, so I was happy for them. I was happy they had an opportunity to share this moment with me.
LC: As a young guy like myself, I didn’t get to see you play back in the day. What was life like for Audie Norris the player?
AN: I’m sorry you lost out on that, you’re gonna have to talk to your parents about that (laughs). No, but man, it was much more intense basketball during the time that I played here. I think that’s why the fans were so…the style of play we had was infectious. I mean they really, you know, left work, left their jobs to get here for the games during that time because we gave ’em a show. It was gladiators out there on the court and the fans really connected with the way we played.
LC: Cool. So obviously there’s a lot of talk about Kristaps going to the NBA, or at least going in the Draft. Willy’s also getting a little bit of chatter. How do you feel about those guys’ ability to compete on that level?
AN: Well, I think they can compete on that level. They’re young, obviously, but they work hard. And the reason I say they can compete on that level is ’cause they’re hungry. They’re hungry. They want to get better, you know. They practice to get better. Right now, they’re probably the saddest two guys on the planet, and that’s good. That’s good motivation for them. And, you know, that’s what’s going to keep motivating them to work hard to get there. Whatever team that signs these guys or drafts these guys, they’re gonna be happy with what they get. They’re not gonna be impact players in their first year or two or whatever. They’re gonna be guys that are gonna develop over time.
LC: What do you see as some of the main things they need to improve on?
AN: Their consistency in their play. Kristaps has improved on his strength, getting stronger on the court. He’s playing through guys pushing and shoving him. They got real physical with him tonight to try to cool him down, but he played through it. So I really think their consistency with doing things night in and night out, especially things where you don’t need to have the ball to have a great game — defending, rebounding, those type of things. That’s where they’ll get their playing time when their offense is not going well.
LC: During the pre-game warmups, you were doing the drill where they have to snatch the ball out of your hands. You wouldn’t give it to Willy and you both were laughing about it — it seems like you have a good relationship.
AN: We do, we do. And the mentality is to play physical all the time when you’re on the court. You have to be strong with the ball, you have to protect it. And like I said, that’s where their consistency has to improve. I thought Willy played a little soft tonight against Barca. He normally is much more aggressive, much more physical than the way he played tonight. And those are the things that young cats, young guys go through, you know? But overall, I think the team played well for a good 35, 37 minutes or so. But Barca, they’re a team that can be hot or cold and they were hot tonight.
LC: It looked like Niko was a lot more aggressive in the second half. He was killing them on the pick-and-roll. Was there something you guys saw there that you decided to switch up or was that just him being more aggressive?
AN: That’s Niko taking advantage of the defense. He knew who was defending him and he knew he had opportunities on the pick-and-roll and he did a good job of it tonight. You know, we just need to find that consistency and do that for 40 minutes.
LC: One last thing — what’s the mindset going forward these last few weeks as you try to stay out of the bottom of the standings?
AN: (Laughs) That is the mindset — try to stay out of the bottom of the standings. You know, continuing to do the things we do well and work on the things that we don’t, like finishing games. We didn’t finish the game today. I think we played intense, like I said, up to 37 minutes — no, a little less than that — 30 minutes, 32 minutes of that game. So our intensity has to be consistent. And I think the guys are working hard and they want to finish the season strong and I think we’re gonna do that. So that’s our mindset. You know, (head coach Luis) Casimiro has a great gameplan and we just gotta stick with it.
LC: Cool. Thanks for the time, I appreciate it.
AN: Thank you, my man.