Texas College feeds off being a complete team, mixing offensive depth and defensive intensity to shoot to the top 10 of the NAIA midway into the season.
Norman Stewart, a 6-6 senior forward from Baton Rouge, La., compares the Steers’ product to a dish famous for its southern Louisiana roots.
“We’re all-around talented,” said Stewart, one of five players averaging double figures for the Steers. “Everybody on the team can score and play defense. We’re stacked from the one through five positions. The second team pushes the first team. The first team pushes the second team. You put it together in one big pot, and now you have a big pot of gumbo brewing.”
Stewart solidifies the Steers with his ability to guard everything from point guards to centers, and play on the perimeter and in the post on the other end. The 10th-ranked Steers (13-2, 7-1 in Red River Athletic Conference) head into today’s doubleheader against Wiley in Marshall forcing 21 turnovers per game and holding opponents to 69.9 points and 43.8 percent shooting. Stewart sets the tone, playing up top in TC’s halfcourt and fullcourt defenses.
“On defense, I’m the energy guy, the wild man,” said the 26-year old early childhood education major, who is shooting 47 percent from the field with 20 3-poitners made. “(Coach Marquet Norfleet) uses me at multiple positions to intimidate smaller guards because I’m quick off my feet, agile and because of my length. I can contest shots and get back at the same time. Most of the posts are not as quick as me. I make them have to put it on the floor and push them out their comfort zone. They hate that.”
Stewart stepped up his offensive game from his junior season, improving four points from last year, his first in Steer Country after transferring from Enterprise Ozarks (Ala.). Stewart, who studied film of Pete Maravich and trained in the past under former NBA sharpshooter Wesley Person, ranks fifth on the team in scoring (10.5), second in rebounding (4.6), third in steals (1.1) and fourth in the assists (1.3) per game.
“He’s our X factor,” Norfleet said of Stewart. “He does so many things for us. If we need him to knock down shots or put him on the best player on the other team — he can defend the one through five. He doesn’t do one thing great, but he does so many things well.”
The Steers started the year picked to finish in the bottom half in the RRAC preseason poll. The Steers sit alone in first place after eight games. The Steers secured the school’s first-ever ranking in the NAIA Top 25 in mid-December and moved up 14 spots in the first release of 2013 earlier in the week.
“We used that as fuel and we’re still running off the same fuel,” said Stewart, who wears No. 21 in honor of former NBA scoring specialist Dominique Wilkins. “We set a goal, to be ranked by Christmas break. Once we jumped in the rankings, we were like, ‘let’s keep going.’
“Our second half goal now is to stay in the rankings, be at the top and win this ring. We want to set a name for ourselves at Texas College. We want to put up a banner inside Gus Taylor Gymnasium so when we come back, we can look up there and say, ‘that was my year.’”
STEER SCOOP: Texas College guard Blake Turner, a former Robert E. Lee standout, is expected to make his Steers debut today. The women’s game starts at 5:30 p.m. at Alumni Gymnasium between the Lady Steers (2-12, 1-7) and No. 20 Lady Wildcats (13-1, 7-0), followed by the Wildcats (9-5-, 4-3) and Steers (13-2, 7-1) at 7:30 p.m. The Steers return home Saturday for their second consecutive rivalry game versus Jarvis Christian (2, 4 p.m.).