Father's memory inspires Butler's Nored
INDIANAPOLIS -- Delores Kennedy-Williams' home on West 40th Street in Indianapolis was bustling with excitement on Easter Sunday.
Her five grown children were in the living room, seated around an oak dining table. Many of her 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren were scattered throughout the spacious brick ranch.
Every few minutes, a loud roar could be heard from the living room, where many family members were watching a replay of Butler's 52-50 victory over Michigan State in Saturday night's national semifinal of the NCAA tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Ronald Nored, Kennedy-Williams' grandson, is Butler's starting point guard. Her house sits less than one mile from the Butler campus.
"That's the first time they've watched it today," said Linda Williams-Nored, Ronald's mother. "But I guarantee you it won't be the last time."
Easter Sunday was unlike any holiday the Williams family has celebrated. On Saturday night, five family members made the short drive to watch the Bulldogs play in the Final Four. On Monday night, they'll be back at Lucas Oil Stadium to watch Nored and his teammates play Duke for college basketball's national championship.
"Absolutely, we expect to win," Kennedy-Williams said. "If you don't believe it, we'll show you the door."
Easter Sunday for the Williams family started with morning services at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, which sits at the corner of 17th Street and Columbia Avenue. Nored's aunt, Lenore Williams, is the church's pastor. Her twin sister, Lenette Williams-King, wore a Butler T-shirt to Easter morning services. Nored's mother wore a bright Bulldogs pin on her red suit.
Lenore Williams told her congregation they were there "to not only celebrate Butler, but also to praise the Lord for what happened to Butler."
Nored was an all-state point guard as a senior at Homewood High School in Homewood, Ala. He verbally committed to play for Western Kentucky, but changed his mind after Hilltoppers coach Darrin Horn left for South Carolina after the 2007-08 season.
Butler coach Brad Stevens didn't wait long to start recruiting Nored. After Stevens learned Nored was back on the market, he drove 490 miles to his home. Nored had met Stevens only once before, when the then-Bulldogs assistant coach tossed Nored out of Butler's famed Hinkle Fieldhouse. Nored's uncle, Leonard Williams, had taken his nephew there to shoot baskets while he was visiting his grandparents during spring break. Stevens informed them the court was off-limits to non-players.
"Promise me one thing," Stevens told Nored during his recruiting visit. "If you don't sign with Butler, don't tell anyone that happened."
Nored ended up choosing to play for the Bulldogs. His grandmother hoped he would attend Harvard, which offered him an academic scholarship. In-state schools such as Samford University and South Alabama recruited Nored, but bigger schools like Alabama and Auburn weren't interested.
"I wanted him to go to Harvard," Kennedy-Williams said. "I couldn't understand why anyone who had a chance to go to Harvard wouldn't go."
But Nored wanted to play at a school where basketball had a prominent place. Even though the Bulldogs don't play in one of the sport's six major conferences, they've earned the reputation of being one of college basketball's best mid-major teams. And after his initial recruiting visit, Stevens was convinced Nored would make Butler an even better team.
"I just knew anyone would follow him," Stevens said.
Leadership and confidence were two of the characteristics Ronald Nored Sr. hammered into his three sons. A former pitcher at Lane College in Tennessee, the elder Nored worked as a TV news anchor before he became a pastor. In 1987, he was named pastor of Bethel AME Church in the Ensley community of Birmingham. The church was located in an impoverished neighborhood, which was called "Sandy Bottom" by locals.
The neighborhood earned its moniker during the 1950s, when 250-foot smokestacks from nearby steel mills covered the area with soot and ash. After the steel mills closed during the early 1970s, leaving thousands of workers unemployed, the neighborhood was plagued by violence and drugs. The shotgun houses that housed many of the mill workers were left to crumble.
Ronald Nored Sr. described Sandy Bottom's poor conditions in his 1999 book, "Reweaving the Fabric." Ronald Nored Jr.'s picture is on the cover of the book.
"When I came to Birmingham to pastor Bethel A.M.E. Church in 1987, Sandy Bottom was indeed a very tough neighborhood. Many very low-income senior citizens lived in the neighborhood, and they had to contend with transients, drug dealers and bootleggers. Lots were overgrown and filled with trash. The infrastructure was sorely inadequate. On rainy days, water covered the front yards due to poor sewage and drainage systems. There were no sidewalks, curbs or gutters. Utility lines hung literally at eye level, so you had to duck your head to walk from yard to yard."
Nored Sr. saw potential in an area many Birmingham residents had long forgotten. Nored and Clarence Brown co-founded Bethel-Ensley Action Task, Inc., which raised millions of dollars to revitalize the six blocks surrounding Nored's church. BEAT built more than 40 new homes and improved the neighborhood's infrastructure.
For his efforts, Nored was honored as Birmingham Citizen of the Year and was given the Martin Luther King Jr. American Dream Award.
"I think the thing I try to follow the most from him is just to be a servant to other people," Nored Jr. said. "I remember many times when my father just reached into his pocket and gave someone $200."
My dad would just be happy that I'm holding my head high. I think if he saw one of his sons loving people and loving God, he would be happy.
-- Ronald Nored Jr.
Ronald Nored Sr. was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2002. He had just returned home from a trip to South Africa when he fell ill. Doctors gave him six months to live. Even on Nored's worst days, he would watch his sons' basketball and football games from a wheelchair in the stands. Nored died in October 2003. He was 43.
"I'm just trying to do half of what he did, and he did it in 43 years," Nored Jr. said. "I'm just happy to be his son. I get text messages from his brothers and sisters telling me they're proud of me."
Nored's mother was happy her son chose to play at Butler. Since he was raised in Birmingham, he was never able to spend much time with his mother's parents. Now he visits his grandparents a couple of times a week. He even stops by to watch "Jeopardy!" with his grandfather.
"It makes it a lot easier because I don't have to do my own laundry or cook my meals," Nored said. "I'm over there all the time."
Nored even takes his teammates to his grandparents' house. The day before the Bulldogs beat Wright State 70-45 in the Horizon League tournament final March 9, Butler players Willie Veasley, Shelvin Mack, Shawn Vanzant, Alex Anglin and Grant Leiendecker joined him for breakfast there. His grandmother's typical breakfast includes eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, biscuits, orange juice and milk.
"We love it," Kennedy-Williams said. "His teammates will tell him, 'Tell your grandmother to fix me this.' He always says, 'You tell her. She'll do it.'"
Nored, a 6-foot sophomore, averages 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Bulldogs. He has become the team's defensive stopper during the NCAA tournament, holding Syracuse's Andy Rautins, Kansas State's Denis Clemente and Michigan State's Durrell Summers in check in Butler's past three victories.
"He's just the guy that I think every team needs," Butler forward Gordon Hayward said. "He's the one that's saying things in the huddle and is really the vocal guy for us."
Williams-Nored only wishes her husband had been here to experience Butler's improbable run to the Final Four. At last week's West Regional in Salt Lake City, she went to dinner with the parents of several other Bulldogs players.
"If he was here, ya'll would be so upset with him because he'd be so busy bragging about his son," Williams-Nored told them. "His head wouldn't be able to fit through the door because he would be so proud of his child."
Near the end of his life, Ronald Nored Sr. told his wife he would miss seeing his sons grow up the most. Randall Nored, a senior at Homewood High School, was a standout football player and will attend Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
"I'm not afraid to die," Nored told his wife. "I just wish I could be here to see what becomes of my children."
Nored Jr. said his father taught him to raise his head high. Whenever Nored saw his sons walking with their heads down, he told them to walk with confidence in their steps.
"My dad would just be happy that I'm holding my head high," Nored said. "I think if he saw one of his sons loving people and loving God, he would be happy."
Nored will hold his head even a little higher when he takes the court Monday night.
His father would certainly be proud.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.