Boys Basketball: Hilliard Bradley Jaguars’ Keaton Norris grows into leadership role

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Senior point guard Keaton Norris was averaging team highs of 18.1 points and 3.9 assists through 16 games for Bradley. He helped the Jaguars win a fifth consecutive league title and earn the No. 3 seed for the Division I district tournament.

Keaton Norris peeked into the Hilliard Bradley gymnasium, checking out the scoreboard clock.

He looked back. “Twenty minutes,” he shouted before knocking open the doors to lead the Jaguars boys basketball team out for warm-ups before its 63-49 win Feb. 5 over Olentangy Liberty.

The senior point guard not only leads his team to the court, but on it. The son of Bradley coach Brett Norris, he led the Jaguars in scoring (18.1 points) and assists (3.9) through 16 games. He also had made 41 of 91 3-point shots (45.1 percent) and 53 of 70 free throws (75.7 percent).

“Everyone looks for me to lead the team, but it’s all of our team,” said Keaton, a Wright State signee. “They say it’s my team, but everyone has their part of it. We have four seniors and we’re doing the best we can to do what we have to do.”

Coach Norris said his son has come a long way since his freshman season.

“When he was a freshman, Keaton was probably 119 pounds,” coach Norris said. “He was so little. Because of his lack of physical development, I think that it was a battle to gain command and get confidence. By the second half of his sophomore year, he was really playing well. Then he had a great season for us last year and has taken off.

“He worked to make himself bigger physically. He was 145 last year and is 161 this year. From a confidence standpoint, I think he’s improved as much as any player I’ve had from one year to another.”

Last year, Keaton averaged 11.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists and was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league. The Jaguars never got to complete their season, however, as it was halted because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic after Bradley defeated Walnut Ridge 59-32 in a Division I regional semifinal.

Bradley won 16 of its final 17 games to finish 25-2, and the what-could-have-been scenario was a point of emphasis in the offseason.

“Knowing that we could have been state champs, that definitely was in our minds and motivated us coming into the season,” Keaton said. “It motivated us to do every rep the best we could and be ready for every game. You never know when it can be taken from you.”

The Jaguars were 13-3 overall and 7-1 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Olentangy Orange on Feb. 12. Keaton had 19 points and three assists a week earlier against Liberty, with the victory clinching a fifth consecutive league championship.

“I think his competitiveness is off the charts, and he has such a high motor,” coach Norris said. “When we’re in the fourth quarter, he’s still competing at the same level as most kids are in the first. He has a lot of skill but that might be his biggest strength.”

Keaton believes his competitive nature is hereditary. His father is the coach, his older brother, Braden, is a 2018 Bradley graduate who plays at Loyola-Chicago and another brother, Cade, is a freshman starter for the Jaguars.

“When it comes to basketball, it’s competitive,” said Keaton, who also has an 11-year-old brother named Kypton. “If you play one-on-one or if we’re shooting around, it definitely matters who wins. You know at home it will be brought up. You don’t want to be the one that loses. I think it stems from my family and knowing that winning is the only thing that matters.”

Keaton hopes to have the same positive impact on Cade as Braden had on him.

“I’m really just thankful to have my dad as a coach and my brothers there to help me,” he said. “I just try to take everything in and learn as much as I can, especially from my dad. He’s helped me through everything and is the reason I’m the player I am today.

“It’s great to play for my dad and have a chance to play with my brothers. It’s important that Cade knows that I’m his brother and that I’ll always have his back on the court. I’m going to help him the best that I can. I may snap at him, but we’re in this together and I’m not treating him differently than anyone else.”

The Jaguars are seeded third in the Division I district tournament behind Gahanna and Westerville Central. They have a first-round bye and open Feb. 26 at home against 32nd-seeded Marion Harding or 40th-seeded Delaware.

Keaton hopes there isn’t a repeat of last season’s abrupt ending.

“It was tough last year because we all knew we could go all the way and be cutting down that fourth net (at state after league, district and regional championships),” he said. “It was tough at that moment, but we had to move on from it and it’s something we’ll always remember. That team will be remembered forever.”

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