Despite returning nearly everybody from last year’s squad, a newcomer is leading the Loyola men’s basketball team in minutes played roughly halfway through the season.
Braden Norris, a redshirt sophomore guard, leads the Ramblers with 27.9 minutes per game and has started in all 16 contests for Loyola in his first season in the maroon and gold.
Norris transferred to Loyola in the summer of 2019 after one season at Oakland University and sat out last season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. He averaged 8.4 points per game in 35.7 minutes per contest in his lone season with the Golden Grizzlies.
Norris, 21, said Loyola was one of the last teams to go after him after he announced he was leaving Oakland as well as the last school he visited when deciding where to transfer.
“When I came here [on my visit], I really didn’t know what to expect,” Norris said. “Obviously the Final Four run, I knew about that and I watched that team. But when I came here, I was blown away. It was my first time being in Chicago so obviously that was a plus.”
The Hilliard, Ohio native is one of five players on the current roster to arrive in Rogers Park via transfer. Norris said he talked to redshirt senior forwards Tate Hall and Aher Uguak about what that process was like.
“Just talking to them about my redshirt year, what workouts would look like, kinda what that process was like,” Norris, an advertising/public relations major, said. “It’s different, you’re sitting out and you’re healthy and you know you could play if you were eligible. It’s a weird year.”
During his redshirt year, Norris said he tried to show his teammates he belonged on the team during practices, but he said it can be difficult to do without playing in games. Now that he’s back on the court, he said he just tries to be another contributor for a Loyola squad that’s currently second in the MVC standings.
“I don’t think there’s anything this team can’t do with or without me,” Norris said. “We did win 20 games last year and I wasn’t on the floor. All I try to do is continue to be another guy that adds a spark and can make shots.”
Loyola head coach Porter Moser said he had a “high level of trust” in Norris after his debut in Loyola’s Dec. 5 win over Division II Lewis University. He said he thought his new guard had the fewest amount of defensive breakdowns and was efficient on offense. Norris finished that game with nine points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field while dishing out five assists without a turnover.
This season, he’s averaging 6.5 points per game for the Ramblers, and he’s made a team-high 27 three-pointers on the year. Norris’ 3.1 assists per game is the 11th-best mark in the conference.
“He’s just a tough point guard,” Moser said in a Jan. 12 teleconference with MVC coaches. “Every coach will tell you that you want to have complete trust in your point guard, and we got complete trust in him.”
Moser pointed out Norris’ ability to knock down shots, citing his performances against the University of Richmond Dec. 18 and the University of Illinois at Chicago Dec. 13 when he had 21 and 11 points, respectively.
“Braden is tough defensively,” Moser said in the teleconference. “He makes other guys better. He’s had games where he’s really scored it … and he’s had games where he hasn’t shot it as well, but I’m never worried about that because neither is he.”
Norris said the transition to Loyola in terms of basketball strategy wasn’t too bad but noted some differences on defense. He mentioned how Loyola’s gameplan for defending opposing ball screens was new for him.
“The offense took a little while to learn and how kind of coach wants us to play,” Norris said. “It’s really just the concepts that we have defensively. Like when I came in, for instance, we ice ball screens and I had never done that before. That was definitely different for me but nothing too major.”
Loyola frequently employs what’s known as “icing” the ball screen, which means the on-ball defender — typically Norris — attempts to steer the ball handler toward the sideline, away from the middle of the court.
When it comes to learning Moser’s concepts or playing heavy minutes, Norris said he’s not backing down from the challenge.
“I think it all comes down to mental toughness,” Norris said. “My parents brought me up the right way and taught me to be tough — or hopefully I’m a tough guy, I’d like to think I am. But I’m just playing basketball. There are a lot of people doing much harder things in life.”