For the second time in as many weeks, the Norcross boys basketball team is taking its show on the road.
The Blue Devils, fresh off an impressive showing at the Academy National Invitational tournament in Houston, will be in Lexington, Ky., the next two days taking part in the Nissan on Nicholasville Shootout at Lexington Catholic High School.
Norcross (10-2) will play two Bluegrass powers this weekend - Bryan Station at 5:30 p.m. today and Madison Central at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Bryan Station is currently 8-1 on the year and Madison is 11-3.
"It's a neat experience for a team to be away like this," Norcross head coach Eddie Martin said. "We're all together, 24/7. It's a neat experience for us and we've been looking forward to this trip to Kentucky."
Though the competition will still be good, it won't be on the same level as what the Blue Devils experienced in Houston.
Norcross beat New York power Rice High in the first game of the three-day tournament, fell to USA Today No. 2 St. Patrick (N.J.) by three points in the second round and then bounced back to defeat USA Today No. 10 Kingwood (Texas) in the final round to finish third in the prestigious event.
"I thought we were very competitive," Martin said. "We had a chance to win and that's the bottom line. If we make our free throws, we beat St. Patrick's. We were 10 of 21 from the free-throw line in that game and you're just not going to win close ball games when you do that.
"But we competed well out there. I was pleased with it. Time will tell if we can learn from it."
Starting today, as the Blue Devils play what is essentially a home game for Lexington's Bryan Station.
Senior star Gani Lawal has carried Norcross for much of the season - arguably his two best games of the year came against the two top-ranked teams in the nation (No. 1 Oak Hill and St. Patrick) - but Martin was very encouraged by his team's all-around play against Kingwood on Saturday.
Lawal, who is averaging 20.5 points per game, had just nine in the win, but senior Tony Neysmith contributed 14 big points and junior Al-Farouq Aminu scored 19 in the hard-fought victory.
"It was time for somebody else to step up and pick up the slack," Martin said. "Tony and Farouq played really well. We hope to get them all playing well at the same time, hopefully by February."
That's what happened last year, when the Blue Devils stormed through the postseason to capture the school's first-ever state basketball championship. But this is a different team. Jodie Meeks, the 2006 Daily Post Player of the Year, is now in Lexington playing for the University of Kentucky - ironically Meeks won't actually get to see his alma mater play this weekend because he will be on the road with the Wildcats - and point guard Brenton Butler is currently suiting up for Fordham in the Atlantic 10.
Norcross returned just two starters, Lawal and Neysmith, from that championship team. And although the Blue Devils are still very talented, they aren't nearly as experienced as last year's squad. Last weekend's tournament and this weekend's trip to Kentucky should go a long way to preparing the new starters for the postseason.
"When you sit back and look at it, (Lawal) and Tony are the only two that saw quality minutes on a stage like that," Martin said. "So the other kids have to start believing in themselves, and that's why you go play teams like this - to develop that."