Exclusive: Lakers rookie Zach Norvell Jr. talks NBA aspirations, Chicago roots, Alex Caruso, and more
The 2019-20 NBA season is right around the corner with teams and players around the league gearing up for another 82-game grind. Along with superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis preparing for the rigors of the season with the Los Angeles Lakers, some players are fighting to make an impression and prove their worth to teams like undrafted rookie guard, Zach Norvell Jr.
Although Norvell went undrafted back in June, the Gonzaga star didn’t stay without a job for long. Norvell was fortunate enough to ink a deal with the Lakers to become one of their pair of two-way players for the 2019-20 campaign. The former Bulldogs star recently spoke with ClutchPoints in a wide-ranging interview about his journey to the NBA and his intentions with the Lakers moving forward.
“It’s just part of my journey,” Norvell said of going undrafted. “I don’t really ask questions. Why me type of thing. I’m just the type of guy that’s like, ‘Okay, it’s just a part of my journey getting to where I want to be.’ Just add another chip onto my shoulder. I’m a Chicago guy. It just fuels my fire more than anything.”
During his time at Gonzaga, Norvell made a name for himself as a knockdown shooter and someone that thrives in big moments. Although he didn’t get recognition like Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett at Duke or get future NBA star buzz like Ja Morant who burst on the scene with Murray State, the 21-year-old shined the brightest in the biggest moments with some solid performances in the NCAA Tournament and both the California Classic and NBA Summer League.
“How hard I play,” Norvell said of what defines him on the court. “My shooting ability. My I.Q. for the game, and my competitive nature.”
Norvell has an uphill battle ahead of him to be apart of this title-contending Lakers squad with two of the best players in the league leading the way, but he’s definitely up for the challenge. Norvell is looking forward to playing alongside the team’s two superstars, especially Davis who shares his Chicago roots.
“I think it is going to be amazing! Anthony Davis being a Chicago guy. LeBron being one of my favorite players growing up. Having the chance to share the court with those guys and hopefully being able to make shots.
“We’ve got a lot of vets. Guys that are hungry to win. Hungry for rings. A lot of guys that are willing to help each and be there for each other. A lot of experienced guys. I think that plays a big role. Some very talented guys too, of course.”
Norvell is proud of where he came from and believes his “Chicagoness” is part of what he brings to this Lakers squad.
“Other than my shooting; my dog,” Norvell said. “My competitive nature. My Chicagoness. Just being able to handle switches. Being able to think the game. Being out there to help the game. Making all the hustle plays. Doing everything.
“That’s just a way to explain it. Being a Chicago guy. Being on the floor to make things happen. Whether that’s getting loose balls. Making the extra pass. Whatever the case may be.
“Show that I belong. Just compete.”
Norvell went on to elaborate more on what it means to be from Chicago; what he calls the “mecca” of basketball.
“Chicago is the mecca of basketball,” Norvell said of his hometown. “One of the toughest places play. Everyone is playing throughout the whole city. The Jordan era was great. I was born in ’97, so my dad always tells me all about the stories and everything like that growing up. Being able to grow up in that era was pretty cool.”
Along with Michael Jordan, who is nothing short of a God in Chicago, Derrick Rose also left an impression on Norvell. Rose is still thought very highly of from those from the Windy City, and the Lakers rookie feels the same way about the one-time NBA MVP.
“He’s a Chicago guy through and through, and he put on for the city every day he was out there doing his thing.
“Derrick Rose. Chicago. Legend. GOAT.”
The undrafted rookie is not only embracing what will be a difficult road ahead in the NBA, but he’s got the perfect example of how to use a two-way deal to become a success on the NBA level. Alex Caruso had a breakout year last season in the same situation Norvell is facing, and that experience and knowledge could be crucial to his development moving forward.
“For sure,” Norvell on if Caruso is an inspiration as a two-way player. “Definitely how much work he puts in. Just being around him for the past couple weeks. He’s a really hard worker. It is a lot of motivation seeing him in the gym every day understanding the situation.
“Just watching and getting to know him a little bit, you can tell he’s a great guy. Really loves to work.”
After an incredible finish to the 2018-19 season, Caruso became a household name in Los Angeles due to his impressive play as the Lakers tried to end the year on a high note. Norvell can only hope to follow in his footsteps as he’ll likely be spending time with the South Bay Lakers and waiting for his shot to when called upon to suit up for the 16-time champions.
As for the kind of player Norvell wants to be, the rookie has a couple of examples of who he admired growing up and the type players he likes in today’s NBA.
“I like Bradley Beal a lot,” Norvell said. “I like guys like that. 3-and-D guys.”
Much like former Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, Norvell was quite fond of San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili growing up.
“Manu Ginobili,” Norvell named as a player he admired. “Slasher. A guy that plays hard. Really crafty. Gets from Point A to Point B. A winner. Competes.”
Now that Norvell must pave his own path in his NBA journey, the Chicago native is looking forward to the professional aspect of playing on the highest level of the sport.
“Being a professional,” Norvell said. “I think that’s something I’m looking forward to. Being on time. Understanding this is a job now. Everybody is here to do their job — just the whole experience of being a professional. I’m really excited for that.
“I’m super happy. Grateful. I’m appreciative of this opportunity I’ve got ahead of me. More than anything I’m excited for this opportunity and I can’t wait to get it going!”