By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
They call him Sweat. It’s a nickname Kevin Noreen doesn’t really like.
Maybe now he can change it to Sweet … Sweet Kevin Noreen.
The way he tells it, he got the nickname his freshman year. See there was another Kevin here then. Last name was Jones, in case you forgot.
So they couldn’t call Noreen Kevin, and Lord didn’t he work hard, so it was that one of the trainers or equipment guys began calling his Sweat.
“At least I’m known for something,” he said.
As the sun came up this morning, he was known for a whole lot more as he stunned an unbeaten Virginia Tech team by scoring a career-high 14 points and grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds while also tying his career high in blocks with two.
Without it, West Virginia University would be in a state of shock today, having lost to Virginia Tech in the renewal of one of the most spirited rivalries they have. Instead, the Mountaineers were able to win the game, 68-67, on Juwan Staten’s driving layup and a last-second miss by Tech’s Erick Green, the game’s high scorer with 23 points.
It wasn’t even so much that Sweet Kevin Noreen scored 14 points. It was more how.
Noreen, you see, is a 6-foot, 10-inch forward, one who in a three-year career had taken a grand total of one 3-point shot … and missed it.
In this game Noreen hit of two of three 3-point shots he took.
“Not a lot of people know this, but I was No. 3 all-time in the state of Minnesota in 3-point shots,” he said.
He wasn’t bragging, for that isn’t his manner. It was so matter-of-factly that he could have been saying, “I just got back from walking my dog.”
But, as Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.
In 2010, at Minnesota’s Transitions Charter School in Minneapolis, he averaged 38.6 points, 16.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 3.9 steals and 3.2 blocks per game. For his career, he was Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer with 4,086 points and had 14 games of 40 or more and seven games of 50 or more.
Yes, it was a small high school.
But why was someone with his size at a small school shooting 3s?
“I played varsity in the seventh grade,” he said, again matter-of-factly, almost like “doesn’t everybody?”
He was 5-9 then and that’s when he became a 3-point shooter out of necessity. His shot isn’t a pretty one, being more like a 1950s one-hander from the outside, but it is … well, sweet.
Certainly, it didn’t come naturally and is product as is everything else in his game of hard work and … well, sweat.
His coach, Bob Huggins, said he doesn’t believe he’s had any player work any harder at his game than Noreen does.
“You can’t imagine how many shots this kid takes,” Huggins said, and he’s not just talking about in practice.
“He rooms with a manager, and he comes into the practice facility at night and has him rebound for him. He’s always in the practice facility,” Huggins said.
It is that kind of dedication, that kind of drive that is the reason he is still at West Virginia and still playing basketball, for his road to this moment was anything but easy. In 2010 he played seven games before going out for knee surgery, then in 2011 he played 23 games before going out with a broken left ankle against Pitt.
It is probably more than coincidence that the team was 15-7 when he broke his ankle and finished at 19-14, meaning it went 4-7 without him, losing in the first games of the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs.
What he’s done has impressed Huggins immensely.
“If kids out there want to be basketball players, he’s a good role model,” Huggins said. “He can’t play above the rim. He can’t rebound above the rim. But he gets out and shoots a thousand shots a day. I’ve had some great, great guys, but I don’t know if I had any who put in more time than him.”
Perhaps it goes back to a day when Huggins was recruiting him. Coming out of a small school there were some doubts and on this day he asked Huggins, “Can I play here?”
Huggins looked at him and said, “I can’t answer that. That’s on you.”
He took it heart and put in the sweat that it took to become Sweet Kevin Noreen.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.