By WILL HIGHTOWER
Basketball is a sport for dreamers. Dreams of hitting buzzer-beaters. Dreams of soaring through the air like Michael Jordan. And dreams of playing for championships. Every kid in America dreams these things, and Ronald Nored was no different while growing up in Homewood.
“You dream of playing in the Final Four,” Nored said. “Everyone does.”
But there was a crucial difference between Nored’s dreams and everyone else’s. His became reality.
Merely three years ago, Nored was playing point guard for Homewood. Now, after playing for a Butler team that is responsible for the most improbable back-to-back seasons in basketball history, he is known as the best defender in all of college basketball.
Three years can be quite a journey. As a senior at Homewood, Nored was named first team All-State point guard after leading the Patriots to the 6A state finals. Varsity coach Tim Shepler described his impact on the team: “Because he was a leader and fearless as well as a hard worker his peers followed his lead and it raised the work ethic and belief throughout the program.”
The accolades kept piling up as Homewood finished the season at 31-5, and Nored was hoping the scholarship offers would come along with them.
Unfortunately, the big teams never came. His enrollment at Butler probably didn’t make a blip on any basketball expert’s radar.
“I chose Butler because they have good academics and I wanted to be at a place where athletics and academics were both really high,” Nored said. “Also, I was born in Indianapolis, and my mom’s whole family lives there. So she has a place to stay when she comes up to visit, and I get to see all of them a lot.”
No one could foresee how the coming years would play out. Two short years after his decision to attend Butler, he was starting in the national championship game against the mother of all powerhouses: Duke. His dreams had come true, even at a lowly mid-major school.
“The Final Four…it’s surreal,” said Nored. “They tell you to dream big, but the Final Four is even bigger than your dreams. You play in a huge NFL stadium, and there is a ton of media surrounding you. People give you a lot of attention, especially around the hotel.”
The “experts” who looked over Nored’s high school career still didn’t believe that Butler could put up a fight in the championship game. Everyone predicted a Duke blowout over the inexperienced Bulldogs.
After 39 minutes of hard-fought basketball, Butler had the chance to beat Duke on a last-second shot. Nored watched as teammate Gordon Hayward let fly the most famous miss in college basketball, clanking it off the rim from half-court in what would have been the shot of the century to beat the Blue Devils.
“When that last shot went up, I thought it was in,” Nored said. “From my point of view, I just knew it was going in. When it didn’t, I was just shocked. We hadn’t lost a game in four months, so losing was sort of a new feeling.”
The Bulldogs got over the pain quickly. A month ago, one year removed from their incredible run to the Final Four, Nored and his team somehow made it back to the championship game. As an 8-seed, Butler had to go through a treacherous schedule to make it, but the scrappy Bulldogs were back. And this time, the experts were realizing the truth.
Legendary coach-turned-ESPN- analyst Bobby Knight named Nored the “x-factor” on Butler’s team. Almost every TV analyst was hailing Nored’s hustle defense as the best in the game. And every fan of the game was shocked at the Bulldog’s unbelievable two-year stretch. Except Nored.
“We knew the high expectations, and we had a lot of returning starters and we were prepared so well. So it hurt way worse to lose this year. Having seniors leave that you have known and played with for three years is pretty tough.”
Yes, Butler suffered another championship game loss. But no one really minded that outside of the team – most were simply amazed Nored and his teammates had made it so far. To make the championship game two years in a row is one thing, but to do it at a school like Butler is unbelievable. Many sportswriters have claimed that Butler’s two-year run is one of the most amazing in sports history.
Nored credits a lot of his success to Shepler and Rick Baguely, his coaches at Homewood High School. “Coach Shepler and Coach Baguely were the most influential coaches I had growing up,” Nored said. “They have done a lot for me in my formation as a player and more importantly my formation as a person. They have spent a lot of time with me and have a lot to do with who I am now.”
Nored also mentioned the effect his community had on him growing up as an athlete: “Around where I grew up, Homewood, Vestavia, Mountain Brook, that area, everyone thinks athletics is a huge deal. It prepared me well, because competing at the highest level in the state taught me how to compete at the highest level.”
Now that Nored has lived out his dreams and then some in the Final Four, he is a busy man. ESPN is constantly calling for interviews with the well-spoken junior.
He said he has less and less time to get home.
“I don’t get to come home a lot, but when I do I try to hang out with friends and see as many people as I can,” Nored said. “I make sure to eat a lot of good dinners. I try to get to my favorite Homewood restaurants – Sam’s Super Sandwiches, Demetri’s, and Salem’s Diner. I also still keep up with Homewood sports pretty well. Facebook helps a lot on that, although I do make it down for a football game once a year.”
Next in his career? Coaching. Nored is currently coaching an AAU team that has had success in its Indianapolis tournaments, and wants to coach once he’s out of college. He would be a tantalizing coaching prospect with his high basketball IQ and his experience.
Anything is possible for him after his basketball career. Because for Ronald Nored, dreams really do come true.