‘Old man’ Norris finds his rhythm in final season


CW/ Hannah Saad

Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

With his team’s once sizeable lead over Vanderbilt cut down to just six late in the second half, Alabama’s Riley Norris drilled a three from the top of the key. The shot helped lift the Crimson Tide to a 77-67 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday.

It would’ve been just another three, albeit important, but then Norris did something unexpected. As he backpedaled past half court, he celebrated by strumming an air guitar, mimicking the now-infamous move made popular by the NBA’s Lance Stephenson.

It had been decided before the game that someone would execute Stephenson’s gesture after hitting a shot. It just wasn’t supposed to be Norris.

“We were talking about doing it after the first three, hit the air guitar, but no one did it, so I was like, ‘perfect timing,’” Norris said. “I got the last three in, so why not?”

The moment was immortalized on a TV camera, and videos of Norris’ musical performance quickly went viral on Twitter.

The move shocked Norris’ teammate Dazon Ingram, who didn’t see it happen on court but watched it on social media afterwards.

“It was fun,” Ingram said. “I didn’t expect Riley to do it, of all people.”

During his five years at Alabama, Norris has built a reputation for many things, but air-guitarist was not one. As the last player left on Alabama’s roster who was recruited by former coach Anthony Grant, Norris is older than all of his teammates. He returned this season as a graduate student after receiving a medical redshirt last year.

To coach Avery Johnson, Norris is the unofficial captain of the team and a player that he can talk to anytime. He can even call Norris “at midnight” and have a “very, very intelligent conversation with [him].”

“That experience helps because I can talk to him at a different level,” Johnson said. “Riley can get coached harder than anybody on our team, times 10. I just think having him to rely on as part of our leadership advisory board, he’s not a captain, but he really is the captain. He has a lot of respect from our staff.”

Norris has also garnered the respect of his teammates. But that doesn’t stop them from heckling him about his age. Ingram is the self-proclaimed leader of the movement to remind Norris how old he is. He and others refer to Norris as “the old man.”

“I hear it a lot around the locker room, that ‘the old man’ [is] always getting treatment and stuff, but you got to keep your body in shape, especially when you’re old,” Norris said.

Keeping his body in top shape is critical for Norris, who has experienced several injury setbacks in his college career. Despite playing in more than 30 games his first three seasons, Norris was sidelined with a hip injury for all but nine games last season. Then, days before the 2018-19 season was set to begin, Norris had a procedure performed on his heart that kept him out of Alabama’s first five contests.

As the Crimson Tide heads into the home stretch of the regular season, Norris has shaken off the early-season injury and has hit his stride as one of Alabama’s most productive players off the bench.

In his last six games, Norris has come off the bench to score double digits three times, including his 15-point outburst at Vanderbilt. A dangerous shooter, Norris is third on the team in three-point shooting, averaging 38 percent from beyond the arc. That has led to teams defending him differently, mostly by closing out harder when he’s poised to shoot from deep.

“A lot of the time, you tell people to run shooters off the line, so I’ve been seeing that a lot lately,” Norris said. “They had a couple hard closeouts, and any time you do that, you want to get in and make a numbers game where we’re playing four-on-three and stuff like that. You want to make the right pass, and basically that’s just a read.”

Whether he’s hitting the shot or creating one for someone else, Norris is one of Alabama’s biggest assets as it continues to build its resume for the NCAA tournament.

After losing 81-62 to Mississippi State on the road Saturday, Alabama will look to get back on track with a win against Florida in Coleman Coliseum on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.