Completing a deal that was struck in principle a day earlier, the Heat formally acquired Cole from the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday afternoon in exchange for the rights to Croatian guard Bojan Bogdanovic, a second-round pick in the 2014 draft and cash. Cole was drafted 28th overall by the Chicago Bulls, who then sent him to Minnesota.
The Heat simply could have waited with hopes of snaring him at No. 31 _ the pick they used for Bogdanovic _ but feared Cole would already be gone. So the deal was made, and after some logistics involving Minnesota’s trade of Jonny Flynn to Houston were worked out Friday, the NBA signed off on the move.
“I’m just going to be myself,” Cole said. “Stay humble, work hard, earn the respect from the veteran guys there and the coaching staff. That’s the most important thing.”
“Norris was ahead of all of these guys for us because of a specific skill set that he has,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “He has tremendous speed and tremendous acceleration and great control of the ball while he has that acceleration. … His speed, his acceleration, his ability, I think, to be a game-changer and a pace-changer is what we wanted.”
Cole played his college basketball at Cleveland State, and scored 22 points to lead the Vikings past then-12th-ranked Wake Forest 84-69 in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, on the same court the Heat call home.
It was during that postseason run when Cole began becoming a star for Cleveland State, and he capped his college career by averaging 21.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists as a senior for a team that finished with a 27-9 record.
“Playing there my sophomore year and winning in the NCAA tournament, it comes around full circle,” Cole said. “It makes that game that much more special.”
Cole was the Horizon League’s player of the year and defensive player of the year, and that more than piqued Miami’s interest. Riley said the team essentially traded up three spots because it did not “want to get left at the altar,” adding that the consensus in the Heat draft room was that Cole was the right fit for the Eastern Conference champions.
“We’re intrigued by a lot of his skills,” Riley said. “Whether or not it works, only time will tell.”
Miami entered the draft without a first-round selection, and resisted the urge to spend $3 million to move into the first round by buying a pick. Making a trade was much simpler for the Heat, and Cole addressed one of the team’s major needs. The Heat do not have a point guard guaranteed for next season, though Mario Chalmers is a restricted free agent, is expected to be Miami’s starter next year and wants to be back.
“This was his audition, this was his job interview, this was his opportunity to get into the NBA and there wasn’t anybody that I think we’ve had in a number of years that took it more seriously and competitively than this guy,” Riley said. “He just dominated the practice with his effort, his hustle, his conditioning, his quickness.”
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Cole said he can’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by the chance to play with LeBron James _ whose arrival in Miami from Cleveland generated slightly more fanfare than Cole’s will _ and Dwyane Wade next season.
Cole finished last season with 780 points, 210 rebounds, 191 assists and 80 steals. No other Division I player in the last 15 seasons had totals like that in all four categories. He increased his steal numbers in each of his final three college seasons, and his rebound total as a senior nearly matched what he grabbed in his first three years at Cleveland State combined.
“One common comment that the various NBA teams have had when I have spoken with them is how hard Norris works defensively,” Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. “That is the difference between him and many of the other players in the draft.”
Cole finished his career as Cleveland State’s record holder in games and consecutive games played (140 each) and minutes (4,114). He ranks second on the school’s all-time list with 90 wins and is third in scoring with 1,978 points.
He’s looking forward now, not back. When the Heat were in the NBA finals, he said he was thinking about having the chance to play with Miami, and a couple weeks later that chance has arrived.
“I can’t be out there star-gazing,” Cole said. “At this level, we’re all pros, and as a competitor you can’t get out there if you’re going to have doubts and if you’re going to be star-struck. This league is not for those type of players. So I’m going to get out there and work hard with the ‘Big 3,’ earn their respect in practice, so that they can trust me so that we can make plays and contend for a championship.”
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