The two-time All-Big West Conference forward is using a senior do-over to become a more well-rounded basketball player
Miles Norris thought he’d completed the last act of his highlight-reel basketball career at the Thunderdome.
UC Santa Barbara’s Man on the Flying Trapeze launched himself into the arena’s wood-beam rafters and tipped in a teammate’s miss for the final basket of a 67-60 victory over Hawaii in last year’s home finale.
Norris had arisen to the occasion of his Senior Night with a 10-point second half, and was lifted even higher by the crowd when it rose to a standing ovation as he subbed out with 10 seconds remaining.
“Miles plays off of emotion,” coach Joe Pasternack said during that night’s post-game interview. “He was telling me, ‘Give me the ball.’
“When he says that, man, I feel really excited and good because he’s ready to go.”
But Norris felt ready to stay just one week later.
A last-second loss to Long Beach State at the Big West Conference Tournament ended his season and started his consideration of the extra year of eligibility that the NCAA was offering to mitigate COVID-19 cancellations.
“I wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament — the whole team wanted to go to the tournament,” the 6-foot-10 forward said. “Losing that game last year was the biggest point to my returning.”
Norris, a forward with length to both his frame and his shot, is back scoring big points for the Gauchos.
He will take averages of 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds to UC Irvine on Monday at 6 p.m. when UCSB (13-3, 4-1 Big West) faces the Anteaters (12-5, 5-0) in a showdown for first place.
Pasternack has watched Norris grow from a 14-year-old beanpole at Chula Vista’s Mater Dei High into the ropey-strong NBA prospect of today.
“I’ve known Miles since he was a freshman in high school — I recruited him when I was at Arizona,” he said. “It’s maybe the longest that I’ve known an individual player, and to have been able to see his maturation over the last eight to nine years is incredible.
“I’m talking, first and foremost, academically. Miles has really turned the corner and has done unbelievably well to get a degree (in black studies) from UC Santa Barbara.”
Finding a Home at the Thunderdome
UCSB is Norris’ sixth school in nine years.
His three seasons as a Gaucho mark the first time he’s stayed at a school longer than a year since he was a sophomore at Mater Dei. He’s played 71 games for UCSB, starting 69 of them.
He would’ve been a hot commodity in last year’s transfer portal, but he opted to remain with the Gauchos.
“In a day and age when players are constantly transferring, believing that the grass is greener somewhere else, Miles and his family have been an example of believing in what we do here,” Pasternack said. “He believed in us, his family believed in us, and he’s developed his game, and had a very successful year as a result.”
Norris’ progress in the program reminds Pasternack of such former Gaucho stars as Max Heidegger, Gabe Vincent, and JaQuori McLaughlin, all of whom are now earning paychecks in professional basketball.
Vincent had back-to-back games of 28 and 27 points to lead the NBA’s Miami Heat to a pair of victories this week.
“The best players we’ve had were very similar to Miles, where the families and coaches were on the exact same page,” he said. “Miles comes from amazing parents in Christina and Fred — some of the best parents of a son that I’ve ever coached.
“They really want their son to be coached, and to be held to a high standard.”
Although Norris often played his father in the shooting game called HORSE, hip-replacement surgery forced Frederick Norris to leave the one-on-one challenges to Miles’ mother.
Mom was a worthy opponent, having won All-Nor Pac honors twice at the University of Oregon, and once again after transferring to Cal when she was known as Christina Metzger.
“I was in seventh or eighth grade when I passed her up in height,” Miles said. “I probably beat her for the first time then in one-on-one, too, when I was in eighth grade.
“We had a basketball court at our apartment complex where I used to shoot every day. She’d come outside and teach me new stuff. She was my coach in the rec league when I was younger. She’s always been teaching me new things, as well as my dad.”
Norris, who transferred to Helix High School in San Diego as a junior and then Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., as a senior, followed his mother’s footsteps to Oregon.
He earned a spot in the regular rotation for a Ducks’ team that won 25 games and the Pac-12 Tournament before advancing to the 2019 NCAA Sweet 16.
“I got a lot out of that season, just competing against Bol Bol, Kenny Wooten and Louis King every day,” he said. “I think I got better playing against them, just coming to practice ready to compete.”
But he also remembered the former Arizona assistant who recruited him first.
Pasternack had executed the biggest turnaround in college basketball the previous season, inheriting a UCSB team that had won just six games in 2017 and leading it to a school-record 23 victories in 2018.
Norris called to ask if he were still interested.
Norris, unwilling to sit out a mandatory redshirt year, spent a season at City College of San Francisco. He averaged 16.0 points per game to lead the Rams to a 30-0 record before completing the transition to Santa Barbara.
No Longer Just a Long Shot
He helped the Gauchos reach the NCAA Tournament during his junior season of 2021 by averaging 9.7 points while shooting 37.8% from three-point range.
He received All-Big West honorable mention in both 2021 and 2022, and is shooting 37% from three for his career with 91 makes.
“Miles used to be just a three-point shooter,” Pasternack said. “He was a great three-point shooter for us last year, making nine in a game at Cal State Northridge (to tie a school record).
“But this last year he worked really, really hard on his body. He got stronger so he could score in the post, drive the ball and, more importantly, improve his rebounding.
“His relentless crashing of the glass to get at least two offensive rebounds a game has especially enabled him to become a complete player.”
Norris also focused on the fundamentals of post play.
“I worked a lot during the summer on getting into the paint and playing off two feet instead of just one,” he said. “I played off one a lot more than I should have last year, and wound up with a lot of turnovers.
“I’m getting better shots this season.”
Norris’ physical conditioning has enabled him to play an average of 32.3 minutes per game this season.
“I take pride in being in shape and going the full 40 minutes if my team needs that to get the win,” he said.
It’s also made him a better defender.
“He’s improved tremendously in being able to guard on both the perimeter and the post,” Pasternack said. “I’m really happy for his maturation and excited to see how this goes the rest of the year.”
Norris’ running total of 759 career points gives him a shot at becoming the 32nd player in UCSB history to reach 1,000. The exclusive club that he’d most like to join, however, is the one that includes Gauchos that have played in multiple NCAA tournaments.
He likes this team’s chances of getting there.
“We have a lot of talented guys who can play. They just have to get into a rhythm,” Norris said. “Everyone just needs to get used to playing with each other.
“But there are a lot of really good guys here and not too many egos at all. Everyone gets along, on and off the court. It’s one of the closest groups I’ve ever played with.
“I love all my guys.”
And he hopes to delay saying goodbye to them this season as long as possible.