I was pleased to come up with an extra story for Thursday, Feb, 7 on the Norwich basketball team. The story’s substance came from an abundance of extra quotes that head coach Tom Collier gave me following the Tornado’s win over Susquehanna Valley on Feb. 5. I didn’t have a place for the quotes in the game write-up, so my thought was to include them as tidbits in an upcoming blog. After composing 600 words, I thought, “this is too long for a single blog item.” So I included the feature as an extra story in our print edition.
The substance and the theme of the story were fine, but post-printing, I realized I made a glaring omission: I left out a trio of junior basketball players who played on last year’s sectional championship club.
I had tunnel vision, and in reviewing the returning players, I focused solely on the three returning seniors: Kyle Edwards, Grant Brightman, and Danny Carson. I left out juniors Michael Sutton, Michael D’Abbraccio, and Storm Cook. Sutton, as a sophomore, started more than half of Norwich’s games a season ago, and served as the primary ballhandler on a pretty darn good team. Cook and D’Abbraccio were key reserves at forward, and occupy the same roles this year.
Sutton, though, became a full-time starter midway through last year, and is in his second year as a starter. How could I forget him?
As a contributing player a season ago, he deferred to seniors Seth Thomsen and Dennis Oralls along with Edwards. That trio combined for 43 points a game last year, or around 70 percent of Norwich’s scoring. Sutton tossed in 6.3 points per game, and I estimated he would likely double that average this year as a second-year player.
Through the first 14 games this year had reached double figures scoring just three times, and he missed three games during the Christmas break after sustaining a nasty ankle sprain. Michael’s dad, Tom, showed me a picture of the ankle, and I swear it was swollen to the size of a ripe Florida orange.
“I think he was on the cusp of taking that next step forward when he got hurt,” Collier said. “When he came back, he still wasn’t himself. But if you think about it, we haven’t lost a game with Michael Sutton in the lineup.”
A veteran of many ankle sprains, my personal experience told me it would be a few weeks before Sutton would again be on solid footing. I forgot that Sutton had youth on his side, and he was back to practice within two weeks. As Collier said, Sutton was not himself in his return, and it would be another three weeks before Sutton started to score in a manner I had expected.
A week from this past Friday, Sutton had 13 points against Chenango Forks, he followed that with a career-high 25 points against previously-unbeaten Sus Valley, and then added 17 points against Windsor on Thursday. In those three games he shot a combined 70 percent from the field (21-for-30), and that includes six three-pointers on 12 attempts. His field percentage inside the three-point arc? A remarkable 83.3 percent. Mind you, not every shot attempt is a layup for Sutton, and he’s doing a laudable job in every other facet of the game. He had zero turnovers against Sus Valley, and he played nearly every minute. Over the past three games, he has 13 assists and four turnovers, while picking up nearly three steals a game.
“‘Sutty’ is kind of that guy who goes unnoticed,” Collier said. “He’s not flashy, but he’s smooth. He really has a complete game. He’s an excellent defender, and he can cover anyone. He’s a great rebounder and he gets his teammates involved. Now he’s starting to score.”
Collier said that Sutton has beating eating everyone’s lunch during Norwich’s practice, and now he’s dominating in games. His performance in recent games proves that point. “No one has been able to stop him,” Collier said. “He came out in the Susquehanna Valley game and hit a couple of shots. His confidence just rose.”
For the first year and a half of his varsity career, Sutton remained content to get his teammates involved and not look for his own scoring. He’s still finding his teammates, but he’s also become a weapon on offense. With so many other viable scoring options on Norwich, Sutton has made Norwich an even more difficult team to defend as we head into the homestretch of the season. “Other than the sectional championship game against Chenango Valley last year, the game against Susquehanna Valley was probably the second biggest game of Michael’s career,” Collier said. “He was the best player on the court that night, and it wasn’t even close.”
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