Norris, Panthers to make Final 4 debut

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Georgiana coach Kirk Norris, an Opp native, will help guide the Panthers in the Final Four today against Pickens County. | Andy Brown/The Greenville Advocate

Georgiana coach Kirk Norris will never forget talking to his team after winning the Class 1A South Regional championship last Friday.

Norris, an Opp native, helped lead his Panthers to a 70-58 win over McIntosh in Mobile at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Center, and the right to play in today’s Final Four — a first for Norris and the school. GHS will play Pickens County today at 1:30 p.m.

This is Norris’ fifth season at the helm of the Panthers basketball team. He previously coached at Slocomb for two years.

Norris played “a little” for the University of Montevallo, and was a graduate assistant on the team for two years before coaching at Slocomb.

He graduated in 1997 from OHS, where he played for the Bobcats for three years.

At the beginning of this season, Norris said there had been little talk about wanting to go to the state tournament this year, however, he said he knew he had the players to get there.

“When you start out the season, the ultimate goal is to play for a state championship and get to Birmingham,” Norris said by telephone on Sunday. “You don’t talk about it a whole lot. It’s one of those things at the beginning of the year you talk with your kids about playing in the (Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex).”

The Panthers have eight seniors on their basketball team, and five of them are starters.

“I thought they were talented enough,” Norris said. “I knew it was going to be tough to get out of the south regional because there are some good teams down here with J.F. Shields and McIntosh.

“Of course, Brantley and Shields are in our area,” he said. “Just getting out of our area is tough.”

Georgiana beat Linden 60-56 in the regional semifinals before taking on McIntosh, who beat J.F. Shields 66-60, also in the semifinals in Mobile.

When asked what it felt like to win the regional championship, and have the opportunity to play in the Final 4, Norris said he felt great for his players.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I think more or less for these kids here at Geogiana who have never gotten to go to the Final Four.

“They’ve never been to Birmingham to play in the state championship,” he said. “I just felt really good for these kids. They put in the time, and the practice and have good attitudes.”

Norris said his players’ excitement after the win on Friday couldn’t be contained.

“Talking to them after the game the other day, and just telling them what they had done — I guess they realized,” he said. “It was one memory I will never forget is going in that locker room after the game, and talking to these kids and knew we were going to the Final Four. There was a smile on every kid’s face and they were very, very excited.”

The Panthers (24-8) will face an athletic Pickens County basketball team, Norris said. PCHS is the defending 1A state champions, and won the 2A state title in 2010, before the reclassification.

“It’s going to be a tough match up because they are a team that’s been here before,” Norris said. “All year, nobody gave us a chance, and nobody gave us a chance in the regionals to make it where we did. It’s just another challenge for these guys. I think they are more than willing to step up and take this challenge.”

Norris lives with his wife, Leslie, who is the OES elementary PE teacher, in Andalusia, and has many ties with the Opp community, still.

His father, Clayton, is the principal at OHS; and his mom, Mary, retired from the Opp City School system, two years ago.