St. Mary’s College Preparatory High School basketball coach Ira Hunt can remember training then 17-year-old Norvel Pelle in the school gymnasium at night.
And approximately 10 year’s later, Pelle entered the gymnasium on July 14 as a 28-year-old, 6’10” New York Knicks center, to make a surprise visit during the summertime basketball camp that Hunt runs.
“He’s actually a very good person,” Hunt, a 16-year St. Mary’s varsity basketball coach, said. “Not just a good basketball player. With his schedule, to come and just talk to a number of kids and be here in their presence, that meant a lot to me because that happened to me as well. I must have been in sixth grade when I met Julius Erving, Dr. J., and that changed my life forever. I just want to give them the same opportunity.”
The children took advantage of that opportunity by asking many questions ranging from how tall he is to how he likes playing for the National Baseball Association.
“Do you want to know how I met Norvel?” Hunt asked the children as they sat in a line. They shook their heads attentively. “He went to high school with my son. Norvel’s feet was hanging off of his bed.”
After gathering for a photo, Pelle did a demonstration for the young basketball players, who cheered him on.
“It’s definitely good to give back to the kids,” Pelle said. “The younger generation always looks up to us.”
By visiting the younger generation, Pelle added, it gives athletes like himself the chance to educate and inspire the youth. He said he was having a great time visiting the St. Mary’s basketball camp.
Pelle, according to a biography written about him, was born in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda to Norvel Sr. and Darlene Pelle. His family three years later moved to Saint Croix in the United States Virgin Islands and four years later to the United States, where Pelle would play basketball for high schools throughout California.
In his senior year, Pelle averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game at his high school Frederick K.C. Price High School in Los Angeles. He was ranked the no. 1 center in his class by recruiting service Rivals and he was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and 247Sports.
Pelle skipped college to immediately become a professional athlete. In 2013, Pelle was selected as the sixth overall pick at the 2013 NBA Development League draft by the Delaware 87ers. Pelle, during the 2013 to 2014 season, averaged 5.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 13.1 minutes per game. In a game against the Idaho Stampede, he scored a season high 18 points.
His career went international in 2015 when he signed with Homenetmen Beirut of the Lebanese Basketball League. After 32 games, Pelle averaged 11.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and a league high 2.9 blocks per game. In 2016 he also signed a two-year contract with Pallacanestro Varese of the Italian Lega Basket Serie A. After signing numerous contracts and playing with multiple teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets, Pelle landed a multi-year contract with the New York Knicks in April.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told sport reporters at the time that Pelle is “terrific.”
“He’s been putting in a lot of extra work,” Thibodeau said. “He’s still finding his way, learning the system. But his length, shot blocking, the rim protection, is huge for us.”
The Rev. Dominik Wegiel, a newly ordained priest assigned to St. Mary’s parish as a parochial vicar, said he was happy to have the basketball star visit the campers.
“I think it’s always good to have a NBA player come and give them inspiration, that anyone can aspire to be like him,” Rev. Wegiel said. “He’s a good example that dreams can come true.”