Audie Norris on TalkBasket: “NBAers who come to Europe get the chance to re-learn how to play”

Photo source: Peristeri BC facebook page

Peristeri BC hosted an exceptional guest of honour last week at the “Andreas Papandreou” gym, during an exhibition game against Red Star Belgrade.

The team from the Western Suburbs of Athens, which returned to European club competitions after a 15-year-long absence, received a familiar figure; none other than Audie Norris: the retired big man, who made a name for himself playing for Benetton Treviso and FC Barcelona in the late ’80s and early ’90s before landing in Athens to end his career, which also included a stint with the Portlant Trail Blazers from 1982 to 1985. He was selected with the 14th pick of the second round in the 1982 NBA Draft (number 37 overall), which featured the likes of James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins and Ricky Pierce.

Two years at Treviso were enough to persuade Aíto García Reneses to bring him to Barcelona, where he outlived the legendary Spanish coach. Norris stayed there for six years, until 1993 that is, when he felt it was time to change his air. So, he came to Peristeri BC, where he averaged 16.4 points and 9.8 rebounds. In 2014, Norris was hired by Baloncesto Sevilla to coach the team’s post players, two of whom are now playing in the NBA: Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangómez.

Audie Norris visited Greece not only in order to be paid tribute by his ex team, but also to be present at the “Galis Basketball 3on3” tournament on the island of Kos. After all, the Jackson State graduate has named one of his sons after the great Nikos Galis.

Teammate Mychal Thompson, father of Klay Thompson, gave him the nickname “The Atomic Dog” because of his brutal dunks. However, Norris is quite the perfect gentleman off the court, as he proved in his interview with TalkBasket.net.

Q: How did you experience your return to Peristeri?

A: It was very emotional to be here for the first time after 25 years. The fans still remember me and I had a lot of good memories in this gym. I’ve seen some of my ex-teammates here: Koronios, Kasouridis and Tsangopoulos. Just playing with those guys at that time was really important to me and also for us to succeed.

Q: How did you decide to play for Peristeri BC at the age of 33?

A: Well, it was late in the year when I decided that I wasn’t going back to Barcelona. A lot of clubs had their teams already, so there were few other teams that I could have gone to, but I wanted to come to play in Greece. I had a thing for Greece because I had played against Aris and PAOK and when the opportunity came, I couldn’t pass it up.

Q: Was it also because of Nikos Galis?

A: Yes, definitely because of him, but also because fans in Greece hated me. So, it kind of motivated me to come here to prove to them that I’m a good guy (laughs)! That’s what I thought back then, but once I came here I realized that the fans love their players and their teams and are willing to support them no matter what. I felt the same love from the fans when I came to Greece. It changed my mentality.

Q: From FC Barcelona to Peristeri BC. Was it too big of a transition?

A: No, because basketball was the most important thing for me. I just wanted another opportunity to continue playing and to elevate the team. This was the team that I chose and we managed to bring it from a low to a high position in the league. For me, it was a successful season.

Q: It also proved to be your last one as a player.

A: Yes, having not being able to play another year is something that I truly regret. It was really hard for me. I was sad because I wanted to come back to Peristeri BC but unfortunately injuries took me out of the game.

Q: Was there a way you could have prolonged your career? I remember you referring to Aito Reneses’ harsh pre-season camps on the mountains.

A: We changed that the first year. I don’t need to run in the mountains to play basketball. But it wasn’t that; it was years of wear and tear. The last thing was the infection I got after my surgery, in my last year in Peristeri. If it was a normal surgery, I would have been back playing, but the infection really ended my career.

Q: Before coming to Europe, you had probably your best NBA campaign, having played a total of 78 games and 14 minutes on average (5.1 points). Why did you leave the league?

A: Well, my playing time went down to zero. That’s what motivated me to go to Europe. My last season in the NBA was a good one but I felt like I wasn’t progressing. I was mostly sitting on the bench. So, I went to Europe to get my confidence back, my minutes and my playing time up. One thing led to another and since I had some injuries, I stayed in Europe.

Q: Would you still make the decision to join FC Barcelona instead of Real Madrid? I know that the deal with them broke for 10.000 dollars.

A: You did your homework (laughs). For sure. I love Barcelona. I love the city, my teammates, playing with San Epifanio, Solozabal, Chicho Sibilio, Crespo, Galilea. Those were my brothers and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Chicho was the first guy that I saw playing in Barcelona and I wanted to go there because of him.

Q: Which team would you join now, if you were still active?

A: In the NBA, the Lakers. I’ve always been their fan, even when I was in Portland. In Europe, I would always go back to FC Barcelona. Always. That’s my first love and if I had to choose a second team, it would be Peristeri BC. For sure, no joke!

Q: What’s your view on the roster of FC Barcelona this year? Is it a super-squad?

A: We don’t know if it’s a super-squad yet. On paper, they look great. But until they start playing together and like a team, that’s what I’m waiting on. Right now, they look fantastic.

Q: In which way has the EuroLeague evolved since you were playing?

A: It definitely has evolved. You have some teams that are prepared only for EuroLeague and they’re building their roster to win the trophy. It’s the NBA of Europe. They have really good players and strong teams. What I’d like to see, but I don’t think it will ever happen, is more national players on European teams. You look at the Spanish clubs, CSKA and whoever; they got only a few national players and the rest are all foreigners. National players are becoming extinct in the Euroleague.

Q: Many NBAers came to Europe this summer. What’s your explanation?

A: They’re getting the opportunity to play and make money. Those are two very attractive things. Plus, they get the chance to re-learn how to play basketball again because European basketball is a lot more technical and tactical than athletic. So, I think guys will learn how to play a different style of basketball here in Europe.

Q: Would you ever think that Olympiacos would not play in the Greek League?

A: No, but hey, anything is possible in Greece! (laughs) I think a lot of teams want to play in the EuroLeague specifically and only instead of their local league. It’s going that way, but when it’s going to happen I don’t know. Olympiacos did create a development team, mostly out of necessity. Maybe other teams will think about doing something like that.

Q: Some years ago, you said you’d like to see LeBron James with the Lakers. Your wish came true, but what’s not working there?

A: Of course it came true. They just have to get the right pieces, play together and we’ll see this year.

Q: Did you watch the World Cup?

A: Yes, I did. It was really interesting this year. Although America didn’t send their best team and got their ass whooped, it was a wake-up call for other teams too because they thought Serbia was going to win easily. Spain had their best team there and as the tournament progressed, they got better, stronger, smarter and played really good basketball.

Q: Are you happy with the progress that Willy Hernangómez has made?

A: Of course! That’s my man. I coached Hernangómez and Pierre Oriola in Spain, apart from Porzingis. One of my players was Ondřej Balvín who played for the Czech Republic. I’m happy with the progress that all my guys have made.

Q: Why was the Greek NT eliminated before the knock-out phase? Was it because Giannis Antetokounmpo never had the impact everyone expected?

A: It wasn’t just because of Giannis. Other players got to play too. His game has to evolve. You can’t just drive to the basket all the time. You also got to work on your perimeter game. Teams are going to play against him and defend him for his drive. They’re going to let him shoot the jump-shot. Once he develops his jump-shot, his game is going to expand and get better. So, I wouldn’t put this on Giannis. This is Greece’s problem and it has to get better.

Q: What’s the state of post players in modern basketball?

A: What post players? They don’t play the way I was playing. That style doesn’t exist anymore. You got guys that are shooting threes now. They don’t want to play inside. You got coaches that are coaching that way: they want their players to grab the rebound and get the ball to the three-point line. That’s basketball today. It’s different and it seems boring to me, but that’s the way it is.