Q&A: Ricky Norton, Part 2

Fans who followed Razorback basketball during the early 1980s no doubt recall Ricky Norton's zone-busting jumper and ice-water veins at the free-throw line. Norton played for Eddie Sutton's Hogs from 1980 to 1984 and was a starter for most of his final two seasons. During his time in Fayetteville, Arkansas won two SWC regular-season championships and one SWC tournament championship. The Hogs also made it to the NCAA Tournament every year of Norton's career and advanced to the Sweet 16 in both 1981 and 1983. Now living in his native Okalona, Norton is the transportation manager for Pharmacy Care of Arkansas.

In the second installment of our Q&A (here's Part 1), Ricky discusses his late-game heroics against Wake Forest in 1983 and which Triplet was on his mind when he hit a last-second shot to defeat Texas A&M in the '84 SWC Tournament.  

Photo courtesy of 1982-83 Razorback basketball guide

Expats: One of our most vivid memories of your playing days was the 1983 Wake Forest game on national TV when you hit five of six free throws at the end to seal that win. We were hoping that you could just tell us a little bit about that game - what you were feeling when you were stepping up to the line in those final minutes? Were you nervous? Walk us through the end to that game.

Norton: It was kind of crazy, ‘cause flying to Greensboro - I was on the plane that the hydraulic system went out on. We lost oxygen. The pilot had to nose-dive the plane about 10,000 feet all at once. A couple of us got sick at our stomachs there. It was a kind of a bumpy trip.

I was rooming with Darrell Walker, a good friend of mine. We were laying in our hotel beds, and we had a couple of hours before we were going to the arena. Darrell kept asking me, "Are you ready? Are you ready to play?"

I said, "Sure, I'm ready. I'm ready, Skywalker." We called him "Skywalker."

I've always had confidence in myself. I wasn't the best defensive player in the world, but whether it was shooting a 25-foot jump shot or a free throw, I always knew that I could shoot the basketball.

I always felt that I could make any free throw in any situation, even if there were no seconds on the clock and you had 20,000 to 30,000 people screaming at you. Just block everything out. Just pretend that it's just you in the gym, and you're working out. That was my approach through my career.

Expats: Do you still shoot a lot of free throws?

Norton: (Laughs) If I went to the free throw line right now, my first shot would probably be an air ball. That tells you how much I pick up a basketball.

I'm a couch potato. But I've got a grandson who's four years old, and he's playing tee-ball right now. He's getting interested in basketball, so I've got a feeling that I'm going to have to tool my game up a little bit to give him a little tutelage.

If you gave me a warm-up shot, I truly believe that I could then make a one-and-one - if you gave me a warm-up shot (laughs).

Expats: We'll give you a warm-up shot.

Norton: OK.

Expats: What do you consider your best game or your best moment as a player?

Norton: My senior year, we were in the Southwest Conference Tournament. We were playing Texas A&M, and we weren't playing very good basketball.

Joe was our center - Joe Kleine. They were playing a match-up zone. Boy, there were crowding inside there on Joe. And for some reason it just would not fall for me that night.

I mean, I had some great looks. I hit one or two baskets, but with the looks that I had - I should have had 20 points in that game. I ended up with about six or seven.

A&M made a run, and they took the lead there late in the second half. A&M had the ball during the last few seconds, and they turned the ball over. Coach called timeout.  He said, "Let's work it around. Robertson, if we can get it to you, let's see if you can get some penetration and maybe kick it out."

I had the basketball at the top of the key there. The guy from A&M went for the steal, so I just kind of spun, and we didn't have but just few seconds left on the clock. Honest to God - I remembered the shot that Ron Brewer hit in 1978 at the top of the key when Arkansas went to the Final Four, and they beat Notre Dame for third place. This is the truth - I was playing that in my mind when I spun. I was saying, "Boothead, Boothead" [editor's note for our younger readers: "Boothead" was Brewer's nickname].

And it was bottom of the net - boom - it went in. We went on to go the finals of the Southwest Conference Tournament. Of course, we lost to the Houston Cougars in the finals by three or four points there. But I would say that shot sticks out for me.

Expats: Wasn't that shot from about 30 feet?

Norton: Yeah. It was close to the halfcourt line.

(In Part 3, Ricky will discuss the challenge of fitting into Eddie Sutton's offensive system, the joys of beating No. 1 North Carolina in 1984 and the heartbreak of losing to Virginia in the NCAA Tournament just a few weeks later. While you're waiting for Part 3, sign up to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.)

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