Braden Norris had no idea what to expect as a freshman at Oakland. He got 11 minutes, then 14 minutes, then eight minutes in the first three games of the season.
Then, about 20 minutes before tip-off at the O'Rena on Nov. 19, coach Greg Kampe told Norris he would be the team's starting point guard against Defiance.
Several Oakland players, including incumbent starting point guard Brailen Neely, had skipped out on study-hall obligations, and Kampe was sending a direct message. No books, no looks.
"I was surprised. I think everyone else was surprised with the lineup changing," Norris said the other day. "Luckily, it came on a day, I think, we were the favorite."
The kid's funny.
Norris stepped in, played 36 minutes and scored 10 points in the 91-47 victory. He was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers.
That was enough for Kampe to give Norris another start against James Madison on Nov. 23, and Norris has been the guy ever since — impressing so much, Neely, who had told Kampe he was nursing a sore knee, now has left the team.
In the three-day holiday tournament at the O'Rena, Norris scored 12, 14 and 18 points and was 11-for-12 on 3s. Amazingly, he didn't even make the all-tournament team.
For the season, he's now 20-for-26 on 3-pointers — it's gotten to the point where the other day when he missed one, broadcaster Neal Ruhl called for an AP alert.
"He's shooting an unbelievable percentage, but he's taking great shots," Kampe said. "He's just a very, very smart kid. His dad was his high-school coach. He's a tough kid, he's played on winning teams. His point-guard performance those three games were as good a point-guard performance we've had since Kay Felder was here. It was unbelievable. It's nothing but great for us in the future.
"It's the most important position for us in the game.
More than the scoring, it's Norris' ball-handling that has stood out to Kampe. During those holiday games, he had 21 assists to five turnovers — as Oakland went 2-1, wins in the first two games over James Madison and Oral Roberts, then a loss to Northern Illinois in the third game in three days, the Golden Grizzlies legs clearly shot.
For the season, Norris has 47 assists to 11 turnovers, a ratio that was even better until his nine assist-four turnover game in the win over Fairfield on Thursday.
In four of his six starts, he's had one turnover or no turnovers.
That's something Norris, of Hilliard, Ohio, takes great pride in.
"Oh yeah, defeinitely," he said. "Growing up, my dad was my coach, and then my AAU coach, (they stressed) possession of the ball, definitely taking care of the ball.
"Turnovers were never acceptable growing up playing the game."
Norris, 19, wasn't heavily recruited out of high school. He was short. He is short. His bio says 6-foot, but yeah, bios. Kampe and Oakland, of course, have never shied away from short point guards, most notably with Felder.
Oakland found Norris on the recruiting trail while they were looking at eventual Michigan State commitment Foster Loyer. Loyer and Norris played AAU ball together.
The more and more Oakland looked at Loyer, the more they fell in love with Norris (of course, they weren't going to get Loyer).
It has proven quite the get, so far, for Kampe, who was convinced during the preseason practices that Norris wasn't ready — and nine games in, he's fully convinced.
"He's our starting point guard and he earned that," Kampe said. "He played his way into minutes. Now, he can play his way out of them, too.
"I knew he was gonna be a good player, but I didn't know when."
Detroit Mercy, after starting 3-3 under first-year coach Mike Davis, has hit a rough patch, losing four in a row — and the last two in blowout fashion, 98-58 at Dayton and 101-57 at Toledo, on back-to-back nights.
But the Titans did get some good news.
Harrison Curry, a junior forward who transferred from Louisiana Tech, has been cleared by the NCAA and got his first taste of action.
Curry played in just one game for Louisiana Tech last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He transferred to Detroit Mercy, but was held up by the NCAA.
He got in his first game at Toledo, and made his first shot, a 3-pointer. The Ann Arbor native finished with 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting.
His presence will be a welcome one for the Titans, who have had to rely heavily on the coach's son, freshman Antoine Davis Jr., who's still second in the nation at 27.4 points a game. But he's struggled lately as teams have really zeroed in on him, and he's shot just 32.5 percent over his last five games (40-for-123).
The Titans continue their season with a fifth and sixth straight games against Ohio foes, at home against Ohio on Dec. 15, and at Xavier on Dec. 21, before starting league play.
►Gotta wonder when the heat's gonna start turning on Eastern Michigan men's coach Rob Murphy, whose team was picked to win its division in the Mid-American Conference but has lost four straight, including that embarrassing game at Rutgers in which it scored just four first-half points. That was followed by a loss to a very-flawed Detroit Mercy team, a blowout at TCU and another loss at Northeastern. Its three wins are against pushovers Rochester, Drexel and Goshen.
►The Wayne State men picked a fine time for their first win over the season, beating defending Division II national champion Ferris State, 90-89, on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are 6-5; they lost just six games, total, the previous two seasons. They're surely missing big man Zach Hankins, who transferred to Xavier and is averaging 4.3 rebounds to go with six double-digit scoring games.
►There was a doozy in Horizon League-MAC crossover action Tuesday, when Central Michigan beat Youngstown State, 100-94, in triple-overtime. Larry Austin Jr., a transfer from Vanderbilt, came up big again, with 24 points. The guard is averaging 19.6 points on the season, and more impressively, on 55.1-percent shooting.
►A little reunion is on tap Saturday, as Oakland heads east to play Northeastern — where former Oakland athletic director Jeff Konya is athletic director at the Boston-based private school.
Player of the week
►Jordan Poole, sophomore, guard, Michigan: The kid from Milwaukee has been among several Wolverines who have stepped up amid this torrid start. He scored 15 on 5-for-10 shooting in Michigan's first test of the season, a 62-60 win over Northwestern on Tuesday, and had 21 on 8-for-9 shooting in the 76-57 rout of Purdue last Saturday. He's also played exceptional defense as the Wolverines have risen to No. 5 nationally.
Freshmen of the week
We'll give this to a pair of Michigan State women's players — guard Nia Clouden (15 points, six assists) and forward Tory Ozment (13 points, six assists) for their performance in the Spartans' 102-58 win over Oakland at the O'Rena on Wednesday. Both Clouden (12.3) and Ozment (10) are averaging double-digit scoring for the Spartans, who suddenly are getting some love from the AP voters.
Stat of the week
►One. Seriously, one. That's how many points (OK, point) the Michigan women's team allowed in the first quarter of its 83-38 home victory over LIU Brooklyn on Dec. 26. Of course, that's a program record for defense in a single quarter. LIU Brooklyn was scoreless for the first eight minutes, 29 seconds of the game. Michigan held LIU Brooklyn to 0-for-8 shooting in the first, 13-for-54 (24.1 percent) for the game.
Quote of the week
“It was probably the most difficult decision of my life."
— Vernon Carey Jr., five-star recruit, who picked Duke over Michigan State this week.
State power rankings
1. Michigan, 9-0, 2-0 Big Ten (previously: 1)
2. Michigan State, 7-2, 2-0 Big Ten (2)
3. Central Michigan, 7-2 (3)
4. Western Michigan, 4-4 (4)
5. Oakland, 4-5 (7)
6. Detroit Mercy, 3-7 (6)
7. Eastern Michigan, 4-5 (5)
1. Central Michigan, 7-1 (1)
2. Michigan State, 7-1 (3)
3. Michigan, 6-3 (2)
4. Eastern Michigan, 4-2 (4)
5. Western Michigan, 2-4 (5)
6. Oakland, 2-7 (6)
7. Detroit Mercy, 2-6 (7)
This week's top games
►Saturday: (Men) Michigan State at Florida, noon (CBS)
►Saturday: (Men) South Carolina at Michigan, noon (FS1)
►Saturday: (Men) Oakland at Northeastern 4
►Sunday: (Women) Oregon at Michigan State, 3 (ESPN2)
►Dec. 15: (Men) Western Michigan at Michigan, 2 (BTN)
Tweet of the week
Truth-telling on a tough day for Michigan State fans.