In a sense, going to the Final Four was nothing new for Ronald Nored.
In 2007-2008 – just two short seasons ago – Nored led his Homewood Patriots to the Alabama High School Athletic Association Final Four at the BJCC. Homewood and Nored reached the finals but lost the state 6A title to Hillcrest of Tuscaloosa.
Earlier this week, Nored was in the Final Four and the finals again. The format was the same, but the venue and the stakes were much larger. This time, Butler University was Nored’s team – and while the Bulldogs’ improbable run to the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis caught the imagination of the country, the former Homewood star seemed to take it all in stride.
“This is what we expected at the beginning of the season,” said Nored, when contacted last week. “We’re not just here to say we made it to the Final Four. We want to win the whole thing.”
Without Nored, it’s unlikely that the Bulldogs would have ever reached Indianapolis in the first place. The sophomore guard’s three-point basket with just over three minutes remaining started Butler on its late run that led to the epic 63-59 upset of top-seeded Syracuse in Salt Lake City to advance to the Elite Eight.
Nored’s hot hand really began in Butler’s previous NCAA game, when he scored 15 points and dished out six assists in the Bulldogs’ 54-52 thriller over Murray State. His layup and free throw with 25 seconds to play broke a 50-50 tie and gave Butler a lead it never relinquished.
The magic of the previous two games continued in Saturday night’s semi-final against heavily-favored Michigan State. Nored scored only five points, and didn’t connect on a field goal. But his two clutch free throws with just six seconds to play secured the Bulldogs’ advantage on the way to a 52-50 stunner.
Butler’s victory sent it into Monday’s NCAA final against Duke University.
If you think that being in the national spotlight has changed Ronald Nored, you’re wrong. He’s the same well-spoken, polite young man who came out of Homewood such a short time ago.
“People like to say that they saw me on television and that I’m famous now,” he said. “They mean well, but people should know that I don’t think that way about myself. What we have done as a team is awesome, but it’s really not about me.”
Nored’s season was solid before Butler even reached the Final Four. He was averaging six points and nearly four assists per game prior to Saturday’s game. But his performances against Murray State and Syracuse made him a household name with college basketball fans across America.
Nored is particularly grateful for the feedback he is getting from the folks back home.
“I’ve gotten a ton of text messages from people in Homewood,” he said. “There have been a lot of phone calls and e-mails, too. It means a lot to hear from the people I grew up with, saying how proud they are of what we have done.
“That’s important, because a lot of this is for the people at home. It means a lot to me to make other people happy.”
One person Nored has definitely made happy is Tim Shepler, who coached him at Homewood. Shepler went to Indianapolis to watch his former pupil in the Final Four.
“The whole thing is kind of surreal,” said Shepler, when reached by telephone last Sunday. “To think that just two years ago, Ronald was playing with us for a state championship, and now he’s playing for a national title. It’s terrific.”
Shepler said that Nored’s rapid rise as a key contributor on one of the best teams in the country wasn’t surprising.
“Ronald always had a good skill set,” he said. “Probably the best thing he does now is blend in with Butler’s big scorers like (Gordon) Hayward and (Shelvin) Mack.
“From a basketball standpoint, it’s a great thing to watch.”
And, as Shepler pointed out, Nored had clutch offensive plays in Bulldog victories over Murray State, Syracuse and Michigan State.
“Ronald has been delivering at the offensive end,” said the coach. “He’s playing loose and with a lot of confidence – just like the entire team.”
Shepler’s greatest source of pride, however, comes from the way Nored has handled himself, both on and off the floor. “I think Ronald’s been a great ambassador – for the city of Homewood, for Homewood High School, for the Over the Mountain area and the entire state of Alabama,” said Shepler. “Earlier in the season, I was telling Brad Stevens (Butler’s coach) that Ronald was a special kid back in Homewood.
“Brad told me that Ronald was a special kid for the whole country, period. He’s just a great person to be around.”
Not only is Ronald Nored a great person, but on Sunday he was just one game away from being a national champion.