MIDDLETOWN >> As his Penncrest teammates formed the chaotic beginnings of a receiving line at the Pavilion, Tyler Norwood had just one thing on his mind.
He’d just been tugged out of the stands, choosing a different celebratory tack than his mates at the horn of the District 1 Class 5A final. While they poured into the student section at the far end of Villanova’s arena, coach Mike Doyle included, Norwood peeled off, squeezed through a gap in the media tables along the sideline and ascended 10 rows to the waiting arms of his family.
Back on the floor, as Upper Merion lamentingly awaited silver medals, Norwood did what he always does on the hardwood. He found a basketball, and in the moment of uncertainty where fans milled about waiting for an announcement of what would occur next, Norwood followed his usual compass, practicing a few underhanded layups.
“It is my happy place,” Norwood said this week. “I practice what I love to do best: Shoot. And I shoot and I shoot and I shoot.”
You get the sense Norwood would go on … if there wasn’t a basket somewhere calling his name. That Norwood scored 26 points in his team’s 39-37, come-from-behind win for the program’s first district title since 1969 didn’t tire him in the least. Instead, with a larger audience than usual, the junior guard did what he seems innately programmed to in front of a hoop.
Norwood took care of business away from the practice courts, too. The diminutive guard with the lightning-quick release and explosive first step averaged 23.0 points per game and drained 80 3-pointers while shooting 83.9 percent from the line. He accounted for 45.9 percent of the district champion’s points this season. But he found another level in the District 1 tournament, scoring an even 100 of Penncrest’s 191 points en route to the title.
For those monumental achievements, Tyler Norwood is the 2016-17 Daily Times Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Also on the first team is the Episcopal Academy duo of Nick Alikakos and Conner Delaney, Archbishop Carroll guard A.J. Hoggard, Strath Haven forward John Harrar and Chester forward Jamar Sudan.
Alikakos is the only repeat honoree, named for a third consecutive season. Norwood, a junior, and the freshman Hoggard are the underclassmen representatives.
Norwood is the first Daily Times Player of the Year from a Central League school since Dan Geriot in 2004-05. He’s the first Penncrest All-Delco since Rodney Duncan in 2009-10 and the first Lion recognized as Player of the Year since it was first awarded in 1979-80.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
Here’s another scene: Troy Norwood is cleaning the family’s Media home, and he’s perplexed by what he’s seeing. All over the floor are little orange flecks of plastic or foam. There are marks on the walls of a similar hue. He’s racking his brain to figure out what it is … at least until a six-year-old Tyler comes home and starts dribbling the tiny foam ball that came with the toy basketball set he and older brother Shaun got for Christmas, pounding the rock until it literally starts disintegrating.
The competition that Norwood brings to the basketball court started in a more intimate setting: His childhood bedroom, with he and Shawn battling on a tiny hoop with a nerf ball for hours.
“We’d play until 9:30 at night, one-on-one in a small room,” Tyler said. “We’d play until we got yelled at. We would take it to heart. It would be competitive. We would fight. And that really set the tone to my future.”
The ESPN-branded toy hoop became a constant amusement, with an opponent or not. The scale of the game was the perfect size for Tyler, who began playing organized basketball in Brookhaven at age four. He’d spend hours perched atop the brothers’ top bunk, flicking shots into the hoop.
As Tyler grew, his preoccupation scaled up. Troy recalls Tyler dribbling a basketball for “eight hours a day, every day,” a habit which has now been thankfully outsourced to a network of practices at the high school, Rocky Run YMCA and Norwood’s AAU team, Jersey Shore Warriors.
Even that sometimes isn’t enough. It’s not often that a grizzled veteran of the high school and college ranks like Doyle is surprised by a pupil. But he got a start when he entered his office at the school one Saturday at 8 a.m. to break down film of the previous night’s game, three hours before a scheduled practice. Norwood had beaten him there, finagled his way into the gym and was putting up shots using the rebounding gun.
Norwood may enjoy himself, but he approaches a session with a perfectionist’s touch. The routine is grueling: Five makes at each of the five 3-point shooting positions twice around. To advance to the next spot, it has to be five consecutive makes. Then come the mesmerizing array of dribble-drives, pull-ups and catch-and-shoots off imaginary screens, looks Norwood will drill five or 10 straight times until he’s satisfied to move on. Each session ends when Norwood is tired … then he still has to make 10 straight free throws to get off the court.
Often, Tyler has Shaun, who graduated last year, for company on his gym runs. The celebration after districts, seeking his family in the stands, was an homage to their influence.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be here,” said Tyler, who also has a twin sister, Taylor. “We shoot hundreds of jump shots when we go to the gym. Without him, who knows what would happen?”
Norwood’s scoring exploits almost seem beyond the point. He scored 30 or more points in six games and has 1,067 career points, fourth-most in Penncrest history. In the final three districts contests, he scored at least 50 percent of the Lions’ points, including 30 in a 60-56 win over Wissahickon to get to states.
The PIAA Class 5A first-round loss to Hershey was disappointing, and Norwood owns the 9-for-30 shooting night at Marple Newtown. But one bad day on the court doesn’t dim the emotional high of a district title that Norwood inspired.
“It was really special,” he said. “We knew that we could be something. We lack height, but we knew that we weren’t just going to give up on what that was. It was special because this group was the closest.”