Placards with the choices 8, 9 or 10 were given to fans attending Wednesday night’s festivities at the Carmel High School gymnasium.
Jessica Norris still has hers, although it’s doubtful any of the numbers — used to score the boys slam dunk competition — apply to her two-day experience as one of eight players in the American Family Insurance High School Girls 3-point Championship.
The Center Grove senior would probably go with 11.
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“It was really fun hanging out with everybody, but I’m mad that I lost,” said Norris, who through the power of online voting from Feb. 17 to March 18 was the “Fearless Dreamer” recipient against seven seniors selected by tournament organizers.
These weren’t just any seniors.
Eventual winner Kennedy Burke, a 6-foot-2 wing fresh off leading Sierra Canyon High School of Chatsworth, California, to a third consecutive Division IV state title, has signed to play at UCLA.
Norris beat her in the opening round 14-11.
Others included Purdue University signee Tiara Murphy of South Bend Washington High School, future Duke Blue Devils guard Faith Suggs, and Aliyah Mazyck, a 5-10 guard who’ll be attending USC.
The remaining three players Norris competed against are headed to Butler, Oregon State and Texas A&M.
Big-time players in what proved to be big-time surroundings.
Carmel’s octagon-shaped gymnasium, opened in 1958, has impressively stood the test of time.
Two former Indiana Mr. Basketballs call it home, as do four state championship teams and numerous Greyhounds players selected to Indiana girls and boys All-Star teams.
Despite the facility’s rich history, Wednesday evening was a departure from the norm.
A massive blue curtain blocked off the gym’s north end, reducing capacity from the standard 3,870 to approximately 2,500. Television cameras, including those of CBS, had been strategically positioned ahead of the 7 p.m. starting time.
Seats filled fast.
The majority of 3-point and dunk competitors even had their own cluster of fans, particularly hometown favorite Ryan Cline, the 6-5 Carmel senior who started the evening off in rousing fashion by claiming the boys 3-point shooting contest.
Center Grove girls basketball coach Shawn Sanders arrived later than he would have preferred. Nonetheless, he found a seat by the time his leading scorer from this past season released her first 3-pointer.
“When I walked in there, holy cow, it was really cool. Fans packed all the way up to the top of the gym and all the cameras … it was definitely big-time,” Sanders said.
Two of Norris’s Trojans teammates, seniors Bri Gliesmann and Regan Wentland, also were in full voice rooting for their friend.
“I was surprised at how many people were there. It was very crowded,” Gliesmann said.
Detroit radio personality John Mason, the Detroit Pistons’ public address announcer since 2001, audibly dominated the proceedings by chatting through every jump shot and dunk attempted.
Originator of the now-famous Pistons expression, “Dee-troit Basketball”, Mason loudly sprinkled “Boom,” “Bam,” “Money” and every athlete’s surname into his unique version of play-by-play.
Norris got hers called, too.
Impressive start for Norris
Norris, who is right-handed, hoped to be starting along the right baseline at the south (or non-curtain) side of the Carmel gym.
This is what she and Sanders rehearsed in the days leading up to the event — five shots right baseline, five right wing, five top of key, five left wing and five left baseline.
In that order, all in 60 seconds or less.
Unfortunately, organizers pointed Norris toward that same blue curtain. She would be starting along the left baseline and moving to her right, not the other way around.
Somewhat unnerved by her surroundings, Norris sent her first two shots sailing over the rim.
“When we practiced (going right to left) she was right around scoring 17 or 18 with a few 19s and 20s in there,” Sanders said.
Norris’s fourth baseline offering dropped through for her first point, but she ultimately misfired on nine of her first 12 shots.
“At that point I was saying to myself, ‘Get in a rhythm.’ Rhythm and release, rhythm and release, rhythm and release,” Sanders said. “By the third rack of basketballs you could tell things were beginning to smooth out a little bit.”
Norris claims it was even earlier than that.
“After the first rack I was fine,” she said.
Norris finished strong in the first round by sinking nine of her final 13 opportunities to outscore Burke by three.
“I could tell she was a little nervous at first, but I don’t think it affected Jess that much. Once she gets going she can’t miss.”
Norris and Burke would face off again a short time later.
This time Burke showed off her perimeter skills while Norris, cruel victim of no fewer than three spin-and-out misfires from along the baseline, managed only eight points.
“The second round I did horrible,” Norris said. “There were a lot of people here. I just got nervous and then I couldn’t hit anything.”
The top two combined scores from Rounds 1 and 2 would decide which players would compete for the title.
Norris with 22 points fell just short.
As much as Norris wanted to be on television (CBS is airing the final round on a tape-delay basis at 3:30 p.m. Sunday), don’t ask her to trade the experience.
As a local competitor, Norris wasn’t required to stay at the motel Tuesday evening with the other seven girls 3-point shooters.
She did and wound up making new friends.
“I’m glad I got to stay in the hotel because I got to know everybody. That to me was the best part,” said Norris, who plans to attend either St. Catharine College in central Kentucky or Holy Cross College in South Bend to continue her basketball and academic pursuits.
Final results of the American Family Insurance girls 3-point shooting contest Wednesday night at Carmel High School.
1. Danni Williams, Clovis H.S. (NM), 27 points
2. Kennedy Burke, Sierra Canyon H.S. (CA), 24
3. Faith Suggs, Homewood-Flossmoor H.S. (IL), 23
4. Jessica Norris, Center Grove H.S., 22
5. Aliyah Mazyck, Myers Park H.S. (NC), 21
6. Katie McWilliams, South Salem H.S. (OR), 18
7. Brittany Ward, Pike High School (IN), 14
8. Tiara Murphy, SB Washington H.S. (IN), 12
Final: Burke defeated Williams, 15-13
TV coverage: Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on CBS