Bob Stand, coach of the San Gabriel High girls basketball team, was skeptical two years ago when he heard that a 6-4 freshman named Rachel Norris had enrolled.
Stand, who had coached other tall players, figured that Norris would be like the typical center he had come across: lots of size but skinny, awkward and uncoordinated. Likely to get blown over by a gust a wind.
But when Stand watched Norris play for the first time, in a volleyball game as a freshman, he was pleasantly surprised.
"I noticed that she wasn't as skinny as I thought she would be and she was pretty well coordinated."
And it did not take long for Norris to show Stand she was a pretty good basketball player.
Sharp From the Start
As a freshman, Norris broke into a senior-laden lineup and averaged 11.2 points a game.
A year later, she is nearly 6-5 and 180 pounds and dominating opponents. She is averaging 21.5 points and 10.8 rebounds and has been receiving attention unheard of for sophomores--except maybe Cheryl Miller, who played at Riverside Poly and is now a star at USC.
Norris was named freshman of the year by the New York-based Women's Basketball News Service and the top freshman in California by Cal-Hi Sports News of San Jose.
Then there was her selection to the pre-season All-West region of the Street & Smith All-American squad, one of only two sophomores ever to earn the distinction. The other was Miller.
She also receives about a dozen letters a week from many of the top NCAA Division I colleges, although she cannot be officially recruited yet.
Scouts 'Get Excited'
"Scouts look in the program and see a 6-4 1/2 sophomore and get excited," Stand said.
The list figures to grow considerably by the time the 15-year-old Norris reaches her senior year.
College scouts, such as Len Locher of Oxnard-based Western Girls Athletic Services, said Norris could develop into one of the best California prep players ever.
"When you think of girls basketball in California, you think of players like Cheryl Miller and Terri Mann (a center at Point Loma)," Locher said. "I think she's (Norris) the next great one to come down the pike.
"If she works hard, I project she will be one of the top five (recruiting prospects) nationally by the time she's a senior, maybe even the best. I think she could be the finest player to come out of the San Gabriel Valley in 10 years."
Stand will not go quite that far but does say that the potential for greatness as a post player is there.
"There's no telling how much she can improve," Stand said. "You would have to say that potential-wise she could be one of the best centers ever. I don't think she's a Cheryl Miller type who can play anywhere. But she can be a great post player."
Locher said that Norris' strengths go past the obvious size advantage.
"She has already got Division I size and she is very well-developed physically for her age," he said. "But what's really impressive is she has a great court sense, and that's something you don't teach players. She also has good vision and excellent hand-eye coordination. A lot of kids aren't nearly as developed."
Added Stand: "She's a very intelligent player and a very intelligent individual. She picks up things very quickly. She knows how to avoid the common fouls that every official looks for. She's also an excellent shooter with a very fine touch."
Excellent in Volleyball
Basketball is not the only sport in which Norris excels. She is an outstanding volleyball player and made the 1985 All-Foothill League first team as a middle blocker. Norris was also an excellent first baseman in Little League softball but dropped the sport when she entered high school.
Norris may be talented enough to play volleyball in college but says she probably will concentrate on basketball.
She has played volleyball for two years, and has been playing basketball since the fifth grade.
Norris says she has always been the tallest player the tallest girl at school.
"When I was back in the fifth grade, I had a couple of friends who were pretty tall, but they didn't grow anymore. It was about the seventh grade when I started towering over everyone."
Norris said she has been the subject of a lot of kidding because of her size, most of it good-natured.
Size Runs in Family
"My closest friends have gotten used to it. There are a lot of people who have joked around with me about it, but I just joke back at them."
She has heard a lot of questions such as "How did you get so tall?"
That's an easy one to answer.
It runs in the family. Her father stands 6-7, her mother is 5-11 and her three older brothers measure 6-4, 6-6 and 6-11.
Basketball does not run in the family. Only Rachel has excelled as a basketball player. But she did not expect to sparkle so soon.
"I didn't think I was going to be playing that much at first. When I started as a freshman, I didn't know any of the plays and I wasn't very aggressive."
But Norris, a quick learner, developed fast and earned a starting position early in the season.
Slowed by Injury