There are 26 spectators in the stands at Barclays Center, which, when the empty seats are all tallied, is currently 17,706 bodies short of a capacity crowd. On center stage, a Monday matinee in the NBA Development League plays out; action is herky-jerky. In purple are the Northern Arizona Suns, losers of 16 of their last 20 games. In white are the Long Island Nets, who have lost two straight by a combined 42 points. From the bench, Nets coach Ronald Nored, all of 26, eyes a familiar deficit. On consecutive possessions, the Suns score in transition. His unit then yields a 3-pointer and a put-back dunk. By halftime, the Nets trail, 78-55, and Nored ambles to the locker room. Inside, he punches a grease board. When back courtside, a trainer applies Band Aids to his pinkie, ring finger and knuckles as he sits and observes.
“One thing I’ve been working on is: when do you push and when do you pull guys? When do you really get after them and when do you pat them on the back?” Nored says after a brief rally gives way to an 11-point defeat for his team. “It’s a battle that I am still figuring out now. A little pushing is better than a little pulling.”
Nored, the D-League’s youngest head coach, notes that his team’s defense is “atrocious.” He lit into his charges in a film session the day before, but rotations were missed once more and the Suns breezed by his men. He eyes a box score that details 13 turnovers from the first half alone. Chris McCullough, a former first-round NBA pick, shot 7 of 21 from the field and commits seven turnovers in scoring 18 points. Nored nods. Trahson Burrell, a bouncy, bone-thin wing, collected four steals. Nored feels that his team’s focus level is low heading into the All-Star break, and he acknowledges that the lack of a home crowd doesn’t help with motivational matters.
“No one’s in here,” he says. “We know we have to create our own energy.”
Few possess more vitality than Nored. Once a nettlesome guard under coach Brad Stevens at Butler, he is on his sixth coaching job since playing in back-to-back NCAA championship games and graduating with a degree in elementary education in 2012. Previous stops include leading former Butler teammate Gordon Hayward’s high school alma mater (Brownsburg (Ind.) High) and living in Stevens’ basement while serving on Stevens’ staff as a skills development assistant with the Boston Celtics. In addition, he spent four months as an assistant at South Alabama and one season as an assistant at Northern Kentucky University. Stevens likes to refer to Nored as “a true energy giver,” and Nored’s most recent assignment has called on him to bring The Butler Way to one-time rivals. In coaching former Indiana Hoosiers point guard Yogi Ferrell for 17 games earlier this season, Nored helped elevate Ferrell from the D-League to a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Ferrell took it from there, earning a two-year, NBA league-minimum contract. Nored recalls collegial banter with Ferrell on the night that the Nets (14-24) visited the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants. Earlier that day, No. 18 Butler upset No. 9 Indiana, 83-77.
“I talked a lot of trash,” Nored says. “It was IU night, interestingly enough.”
Nored remains in transition as he negotiates his way through a league experimenting with four or five officials in certain games. Instant replay reviews are accompanied with the theme music from “Law & Order” episodes. The Nets have played just four games open to the public this season before they transition east to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. As much as the game evolves and his roster turns over, core values are non-negotiable with Nored, no matter the personnel. R.J. Hunter, a former first-round pick, and others have been left behind when late.
“He wants his guys to get better and move on from here, to not be D-League players for eight years,” says Trajan Langdon, the Nets’ assistant general manager.
None of this surprises JaMychal Green, a Memphis Grizzlies forward who played with Nored in AAU. An hour after Nored’s latest loss, Green readies to play in his NBA game against the Brooklyn Nets. He smiles when he learns that Nored cut his knuckles in the name of motivation.
“He was the type of guy diving on the floor for loose balls, all bruised up, bleeding,” Green says. “We fed off his energy. He got us going in a lot of games just by getting after opponents, picking up guards full court. He’s just a dog out there. Definitely a dog. He hate losing. I’ve seen him on all fours crying after an AAU game.”
* * *
“I was always in trouble. I always talked back. I always had an answer for everything. Refs probably think the same now,” Nored says of his childhood in Homewood, Ala. He is seated on a chair inside the Nets’ new practice facility on the eighth floor of Building 19 in Industry City. He recalls not taking instruction very well, and the tantrums remain with him. One occurred at an Extended Day Program when he was in the fourth grade. “I was so angry once that I busted out of the door, broke the door handle, and just left the school building. I walked away on my own. I essentially ran away. If I was mad, my temper just went to a whole new level then.”
He shakes his head. There is more tumult to share.
“This is one of the all-time greats in my family,’” he says. “We’re Christians and my dad was a pastor. My mom, her go-to anytime I would be angry, was: ‘Would Jesus act this way? People treated Jesus very unfairly, did he act this way when they did?’ At one point I got so fed up with her saying that that I yelled, ‘Mom! I am not Jesus, and I never will be Jesus!’ That stuck in my family for a long time.”
Nored’s father, also Ronald, was the pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Ensley section of Birmingham. His mother, Linda, worked as an office manager at Magnolia Pediatrics. Together they preached patience and humility to their sons. Each Christmas, the family wasn’t allowed to open gifts until after visiting Ensley, where they brought presents to less fortunate members of the congregation. In time, the father’s effect on the community — assisting in the building of new houses, facilitating the introduction of streetlights and altogether tending to his flock — drew recognition. The neighborhood’s name was changed from Sandy Bottom to Sandy Vista. A grateful community returned the acts of generosity when Nored’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2002. Nored was in the eighth grade when his dad died. Families at school collected funds for the Noreds. Parents welcomed the boys into their homes if their mother needed a weekend away. His mother had been working her full-time job while attending Birmingham School of Law at night during her husband’s cancer battle. They had driven as far as San Antonio for treatments, but no cure came as he withered.
“I started to grow up that year,” Nored says. “The short temper left me; the way I reacted to things was a lot different because of perspective gained.”
Bouncing basketballs offered a familiar rhythm, as well. He cut football out of his regiment after his father died, and fathers in town took him out to dinner, where they would tell him that he was making a grave mistake to leave his pads behind. He kept the physicality, scoring as many as 38 points in one game and hauling as many as 14 rebounds in another. He helped lead Homewood High to a state final, and signed with Western Kentucky before head coach Darrin Horn uprooted from campus for South Carolina. Nored re-opened his recruitment by re-charging an old phone to retrieve numbers of college coaches that called earlier. One was Stevens, who did not immediately return Nored’s call, but Homewood’s coach, Tim Shepler, explained a few days later that Stevens had gotten his voicemail. Stevens couldn’t call back until Nored received his release from Western Kentucky. Once granted, Stevens and Nored spoke. They had first met when Nored, who was born in Indianapolis, where Butler is located, visited family as a ninth grader. Nored snuck into Hinkle Fieldhouse — Butler’s historic gym of “Hoosiers” lore — to shoot around. A bespectacled Stevens informed Nored that it was a dead period. He had to depart.
“There he was, like always, following the rules to a freaking T,” Nored says.
Much has passed since that chance meeting. Nored was elected class president as a freshman at Butler, and Stevens believed his path was going to be political, perhaps with a U.S. Senate run in his future. Nored served as a stifling defender for two teams that reached the NCAA title game, first falling to Duke in 2010 and then UConn the following April. Nored turned away from the action after Hayward’s fling by half court at the buzzer missed against Duke, and he has never watched tape from the UConn defeat. He keeps in touch with Hayward and others via text, and there were Nored and Stevens in a hospital room in 2016, sitting with former Bulldogs center Andrew Smith days before he lost his battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was 25.
“Andrew was still trying to give to other people,” Nored says. “He could barely get it out, but you could hear him mumble it. He talked about Butler.”
Stevens recognizes that Nored continues to develop his voice on and off the court, calling him “a people’s person to the umpth degree.” Stevens also reflects fondly on Nored living in the basement of his house in Wellesley, Mass., a well-to-do suburb of Boston, as his young family adjusted. Nored was with the Celtics then as a behind-the-bench assistant. Coach and assistant carpooled together, and Nored learned firsthand the fallibility of a leader who has been hailed as a sideline savior.
“I will say he screwed up a potential relationship for me,” Nored says. “He told me to go on a limb and ask this girl, like, ‘Hey, let’s come together.’ She was like, ‘I don’t think so.’ She rejected me. I was like, ‘Thanks, Brad.’”
* * *
Nored tracks every step that he takes. Consider the personal analytics he keeps. Last April, when he was at Northern Kentucky, his FitBit counted 33,353 footfalls between April 25 and May 1. He moved to New York soon after. From May 23-29, his FitBit counted 161,216 big city steps. Once the driver of a silver Volkswagen Beetle while starring in Homewood, he no longer drives a car. His commute to Barclays is a 15-minute walk up Flatbush Ave. in neon green sneakers. He also hops on the R train to Sunset Park on days he reports to the Nets’ facility, which is down the block from a chicken coop and across the street from a strip club.
“The R train is my friend,” he says.
Langdon knows the distance Nored has come. He first came across Nored as a player at Butler, and then watched him work in Boston when he was scouting for the San Antonio Spurs. Upon taking his job with the Nets, Langdon reached out to Nored and fabricated a four-hour layover in Cincinnati so that he could get a feel for him.
“He made it an interview,” says Langdon, who spoke with Nored for two hours that day. “He brought a resume. He was ready.”
Kenny Atkinson, head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, welcomed Nored’s input when he first arrived. There were pre-draft workouts and summer league sessions; Nored volunteered his viewpoints. Eventually, Atkinson threw Nored on the court, working him in on simulations and having him compete in three-on-three situations.
“Selfishly, we miss him because he’s still a pretty good player,” Atkinson says. “We’re like, ‘Let’s call Ronald up, get him out of Sioux Falls, we need him for a drill!’”
Nored partakes in an urban professionals league during the offseason, but his attention is trained on improving his coaching. He likes to ponder big picture, how he can goad players beyond current performance levels by readying them mentally and emotionally. He often thinks about what numbers he can provide them. Some of those statistics he learned from Stevens; others he divines from personal studies. He does not bring up his career much, and his Final Four rings are in storage. Still, he counts a framed No. 5 jersey gifted to him on Senior Day at Butler as his most prized personal possession. He wonders when might be an appropriate time to showcase it, weighing where his wife, whom he married last summer, might allow him to put it.
“We’ll probably hang it up at the next house,” he says.
Published at Sat, 04 Mar 2017 20:43:22 +0000