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April 23, 2008

Noriega gives Bulls jump on 2009 class

On Tuesday afternoon, after watching Shaun Noriega swish through a deep three-point shot on the move, Stan Heath leaned in to North Port High School coach Curt Allen's ear and playfully suggested that if Noriega made the next one from the same distance, he'd have to offer the youngster a scholarship on the spot.

Noriega's very next effort was the same as the previous - nothing but net.

"Coach Heath just laughed and said, 'I was going to offer him anyway,' " Allen said. "It was a pretty funny moment."

With the ink on Heath's 2008 signing class still not dry, he got an early jump on the 2009 group with Noriega's commitment Wednesday afternoon. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound shooting guard wasted little time, considering Heath's offer overnight and calling with his pledge less than 24 hours later.

"I had the workout at school yesterday and I went home and talked to my family. I thought it was a really good opportunity. I like the coaches. I like the school and I've always wanted to play at the highest level - the Big East," Noriega said. "When an offer comes, you can't let that slip."

Noriega figures to be recognized as one of the top seniors in the state in 2008-09. He was a third team all-state selection in Class 5A following his just-completed junior season. Noriega averaged better than 24 points per game - 30 over the last 10 games - and consistently proved his sharp shooting with 83 made threes. He connected on 46-percent from the field and 78-percent at the line.

Noriega already holds North Port's career scoring mark with 1,282 points. The school, in Sarasota County, opened in 2001.

"USF really wanted a shooter and Shaun's gonna make shots. He'll space the floor and open things up for other guys," Allen said. "I know some people are going to say, why now? Why commit so early? But it made a lot of sense for him. He wanted to stay in Florida so his mom could see him play and it was the right situation and the right coach. If he went to a team where they were going to expect him to carry things by scoring off the dribble, he's not that guy. But Coach Heath has some good athletes coming in and he said he wanted a player who could expand the floor and make shots."

Noriega had recruiting interest from Butler, Washington State, Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast University, but Allen expected things to heat up even more during the summer evaluation period. Noriega also competes on the AAU circuit with Florida Elite.

USF's staff got its first look at him immediately after Heath took the job, and they followed Noriega throughout his 2007-08 campaign. He has been a varsity starter since the mid-point of his freshman season, when he moved to North Port from nearby Sarasota.

"It's a great fit for me and now I can just focus on getting better and making an impact when I get to USF. I'm really excited. My goal is to help USF be one of the best programs in the nation," Noriega said. "Why not?"

Although Noriega had always been an impressive shooter, Allen said he felt Heath's offer on Tuesday was driven more by Noriega's progress in other areas.

"I came from Indiana and Shaun has an old-school mentality. He committed today and he's out there shooting right now. I think Coach Heath saw his progression to being a more complete athlete. Shaun worked on his body development and became a more complete player," Allen said. "He made himself a player. He's always been a shooter."

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