Price's Norvel Pelle draws plenty of attention

LOS ANGELES -- Might as well enjoy him now.

After all, he won't be around here for much longer.

By most accounts, Norvel Pelle is the premier prep basketball player the Southland has to offer. And it doesn't matter where the game is, at home or on the road, crowds typically flock to the gym in an effort to catch a glimpse of the senior from Price High in action.

Some cheer. Others jeer. Bottom line: Pelle is a big draw.

Such was the case once again Saturday night. Spectators were out in force at the Fairfax State Preview Classic to watch Pelle & Co. defeat Mission Hills Alemany, 66-61. Interestingly enough, a collection of college coaches and scouts were in attendance as well, presumably there to see Pelle for perhaps one of the final times before he takes his game to St. John's next season.

“Norvel brings a whole lot to the table,'' Price coach Michael Lynch said. “It seems like everyone wants a piece of him sometimes, so the key for him is to stay focused as much as possible. He's getting better and better at concentrating on things and that's a good sign because you never know how a kid is going to respond to a certain situation and all of the hype.

“On the court, he makes his teammates better, no question about it. He's a talent, a force, the kind of player that opens things up for everyone else around him. There's a lot to like about him, he does many things well. Norvel can be a dynamic player whenever he wants.''

Pelle will have to be indeed dynamic during Saturday night's Nike Extravaganza if Price (16-5 overall) hopes to upset host Santa Ana Mater Dei (20-2), No. 2 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 rankings. It is worth noting the Knights are No. 13 in the ESPNLA rankings.

“I feel like I have a big target on my back, everyone is trying to get at you all the time, on and off the court,'' Pelle said. “I hear all kinds of things at some of our games, good things and the bad stuff. When people trash-talk, I turn that into a positive and show people who I am. I try to be level-headed, humble and hungry at the same time, that's important.''

At 6-foot-9, 200-plus pounds, Pelle possesses a long yet wiry frame that creates constant matchup problems for opponents, on both ends of the floor. An explosive leaper to boot, he is able to track down rebounds and block shots some might not be able to reach.

If there is one drawback, or knock on his skill set, it could be his lack of consistency from the perimeter. That potential flaw, however, did little to deter ESPNU from ranking Pelle as the country's No. 14 power forward and the No. 75 prospect overall.

He compares favorably to fellow Southern California post players such as Angelo Chol from San Diego Hoover and Ryan Anderson from Long Beach Poly. On the national level, Anthony Davis from Chicago (IL) Perspectives Charter and Quincy Miller from High Point (NC) Westchester Country Day are considered the top players at their position.

Nevertheless, Pelle remains in the conversation when talk about the top power forwards around takes place. That fact, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment.

“In terms of athleticism, Norvel is the most physically gifted big man out on the West Coast, and one of the country's elite shot blockers,'' said Joel Francisco, a recruiting analyst for ESPN. “He has just about everything you look for in a player at the four position.

"Thing about Norvel is, and I'm not the only one who thinks this way, his dedication has been a question mark in the past. If he can learn how to keep his head in the game for an extended time, I think at some point down the road, he can make an impact at the next level.''

Rest assured, Pelle did not become a sensation overnight.

Similar to most freshmen, his playing time was limited. As a sophomore, however, Pelle took advantage of extra minutes on a Compton Dominguez team, that at the time, featured three players heading to the next level: Jordan Hamilton (Texas), Keala King (Arizona State) and Thurman Woods (Montana). The experience proved to be invaluable.

Just when things started to appear as if they were heading in the right direction, it all fell apart. Dons coach Russell Otis ran into legal troubles, and with his future and that of the program in doubt, Pelle decided it best to begin exploring his options.

A move to nearby Price proved to be the best fit, but according to transfer rules, he was forced to sit out all of last season. And what a season it was for the Knights.

Led by seniors Allen Crabbe and Richard Solomon, both of whom are contributors at California now, Price ended up winning a CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA championship with a 73-70 victory over Orange Lutheran. Weeks later, the Knights capped off a remarkable run with a 69-52 win over Albany St. Mary's to secure the Division IV state title.

All the while, of course, Pelle was positioned toward the end of the Price bench, wondering about what could have been.

“That was a tough time for me because I wanted to get out there and play with my teammates, I wanted to make a difference. '' Pelle said. “It was good and bad, actually. I got the chance to see what it takes to win it all and get a ring. That's what drives me now.''

Apparently so.

Pelle has been known to play like an individual possessed over the course of this season. Accordingly, he is averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game. With three games remaining in the regular season, all signs point to him being as productive as ever.

Beyond that, a move across country to play in the Big East Conference looms large.

Apparently, Pelle is looking forward to the day he arrives on campus at St. John's. Once there, he will reunite with coach Steve Lavin, who was a major factor in his decision to choose the Red Storm despite having offers from Kansas and UCLA, among others.

“St. John's was the best pick for me,” Pelle said. “Being in New York with coach Lavin is going to be wonderful. Once you hit college, I know you have to stay in the gym all the time. Trying to get better and overcome your weaknesses and strengths is what matters.

“I'm going to have to defend myself, start my name all over again and live up to the hype. It won't be easy, I know that it's going to be tough the whole time. I like a challenge though. I want to have the best of both worlds, as they say. It would be excellent for people back at home to know that you can go out to the Big East, or the East Coast, and dominate.''

Whether that happens remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Pelle is well on his way and will be leaving Los Angeles behind sooner rather than later.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.