Zach Norvell Jr. earned the nickname “Snacks” for his affinity for candy and chocolate. Gonzaga’s coaches picked up on it when Norvell’s father used the moniker during a visit, so Snacks followed the shooting guard to Spokane.
Now Norvell is gobbling up opponents in the NCAA Tournament.
Gregarious and confident, Norvell has provided the fire the low-key Zags have needed and has them in position to make another Final Four run.
“He’s got a persona that we really need in our program right now, quite frankly,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We have an overabundance of introverts and that’s one thing he’s not. And so I call him our spiritual leader. He gets us going every practice, even the ones they don’t want to be at.”
Norvell has the Zags in a position few outside Spokane thought they would be: Two wins from a return trip to the Final Four.
Gonzaga reached the Final Four for the first time last season, losing to North Carolina in the title game. The Bulldogs lost key players from that team: Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss.
Gonzaga was picked to finish second in the West Coast Conference, but swept the regular-season and tournament titles to reach the NCAA Tournament for the 20th straight year.
Once the Zags reached the field of 68, Norvell took over.
The redshirt freshman averaged 12.3 points during the regular season, but has upped his game under college basketball’s brightest spotlight.
Norvell overcome a rough shooting night to hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 20.8 seconds left in Gonzaga’s opening-round, 68-64 win over UNC-Greensboro. He followed that up by scoring 28 points, hitting six 3-pointers and grabbing 12 rebounds in a second-round win over Ohio State.
The win over the Buckeyes sent Gonzaga to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season and a match-up with Florida State on Thursday in Los Angeles.
“I’m a really confident guy and the coaching staff and all the guys around me put the confidence in me,” Norvell said.
Norvell was a spectator to history a year ago.
A 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Chicago, he was a top-100 recruit who once scored 53 points and hit 14 3-pointers in an AAU game. But when he arrived in Spokane, Norvell was dealing with a lingering knee injury and joined a roster stacked with guard talent, so he ended up redshirting.
Instead of pouting, Norvell took the time to learn from Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. He observed how those veteran guards went about their business, how they played the game and led Gonzaga to the national title game.
“Sitting last year was big,” Norvell said. “Behind great guards, I learned a lot from those guys.”
Norvell had to use those lessons as a backup to start the 2017-18 season, playing behind Corey Kispert. When Kispert injured his ankle in November, Norvell slid into the starting lineup and shined, finishing third in scoring on a team full of scoring options while becoming the emotional leader and spark for the Bulldogs.
“He’s got a winning spirit about him,” Few said. “He has an effervescence and charisma. He not only provides that stuff on the floor, but off the floor is very important.”
Snacks has them covered.
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