Sorensen had a ‘Justin-credible’ career

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 29, 2004

It was always tough to miss Justin Sorensen on the basketball courts of Nansemond River. Not because, at 6 feet 7 inches with arms that reach so high you’d need binoculars to see his hands, he was often the biggest guy on the court. Not because Warrior fans were used to seeing the overgrown schoolboy they warmly nicknamed &uot;Big Daddy&uot; soar from the free-throw line to dunk the ball in the tradition of Julius Erving or ever-so-calmly stuff a layup attempt right back down the throat of some poor, unsuspecting driving forward. Not even because Sorensen was the guy that the team would turn to in the clutch – with nationally-known Marquie Cooke, dynamite rebounders Dennis Conley and Eric Joe, and bullseye three-point gunning youngsters like Jerome Burgess and Vaughn Wilson, rare was the occasion that Sorensen got on the court for more than five minutes at a time, and most of that was during blowouts.

Actually, it was something else entirely that made the crowd and cheerleaders go wacky every time he stepped onto the court. It’s the reason that NR fans always screamed at me, &uot;Hey, Reporter Man! Put number 42 in the paper!&uot;

It’s desire. It’s enthusiasm. It’s a love for the game that is sorely missing from sports on every level today. It’s something that’s been an inspiration to the team for two years.

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Early in the 2002-03 season, Sorensen hit the NR home court late in a game that the Warriors, in the midst of their second-consecutive Southeastern District-winning season, were winning by about 30 points, the norm for them. Someone, I think it was Latron Demiel, fed him a pass in the paint. Sorensen hauled in the rubber bronze sphere, pirouetted around his opponent, and banked home a layup.

You’d have thought he’d won the lottery. Suddenly obtaining Carl Lewis-like speed, the then-junior charged back down the court, punching his arms over his head and leaping four feet into the air every three steps, grinning like the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland fame.

&uot;What was that, Sorensen?&uot; I sarcastically queried him in the dressing room afterward, trying to keep a straight face. &uot;Your first basket or something?&uot;

&uot;Yup!&uot; he replied eagerly, still beaming widely. &uot;First one! Did you like it? What did you think?&uot;

At the time, I wasn’t sure. But along with everyone else, I’d find out soon enough.

After scoring some more in the last year’s district tournament, which River won for the first time since entering Southeastern District ball, Sorensen came back for his senior year. It was the same story for the 2003-4 season; his time on the courts may have been all too short, but it was memorable. Once again, the cheerleaders leaped to the sky and the crowd’s applause nearly blew the roof off the NRHS gym whenever he stepped onto the court.

And when he scored? That just made things all the more celebratory. During the River &uot;Senior Night&uot; game against Wilson on Feb. 11, Sorensen started for the only time of his career – and got one of the biggest ovations of the night when he was introduced. He banked home one of the game’s first layups, and was fouled in the act.

I had already known that Sorensen was a favorite of the crowd and the cheerleaders. But until that one moment, I don’t think I really knew what a great effect he’d had on his fellow Warriors as well. As Sorensen walked to the line, Conley, Cooke (always known as one of the district’s top team players) and the rest of his teammates hugged him and backslapped him like he’d just hit a game-winning shot from midcourt. Remember that &uot;haul down the court, jumping, pumping arms and smiling widely&uot; look that we first witnessed the season before? I got to check it out again everytime Sorensen scored.

Coach Franklin Chatman saw it too. &uot;Justin is one of those guys that has an unbelievable work ethic,&uot; said the coach, who has taken his team to the last three district titles and the last two district tournament titles. &uot;He loves the game, he loves the program, and he loves being around the team.

&uot;He’s definitely going to play college ball, and he’ll have his choice about where he wants to go. I think people are going to hear more about him, because he’s a wonderful kid.&uot;

Justin Sorensen didn’t score a lot of points, fire many assists, or slap away a boatload of shots. But maybe, just maybe, every high school team should have a few more kids like him.