Cole already has earned respect of teammates

The Sports Xchange

The next big thing for the Heat might be the next little thing.

First-round pick Norris Cole, the point guard out of Cleveland State, hardly was expected to be a breakout player for the Heat this season. Instead, he has enjoyed several breakthrough moments in these early hours of the season and already is pushing incumbent starter Mario Chalmers for playing time.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said what's most impressive is the way Cole already has LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looking for him in the open court.

"He has earned their respect even though it has been a short period of time," said Spoelstra, whose team defeated the Bobcats 96-95 Wednesday in Charlotte and next plays Friday in Minnesota. "He is pure. He is all about the team. He is mature. He has an ability to focus and concentrate and he gets them the ball.

"We just want to encourage him and not put too many expectations on him right now. He is playing with a free mind. That's what's key."

Part of that is the maturity of a four-year collegian.

"He is a tough kid," Spoelstra said. "He played football in high school. Any kind of loose ball you get, you see him trying to run through people to get it. When he is attacking the paint, his head is down looking for contact and he is not afraid.

"If someone is coming at him, he will willingly sacrifice his body and put it in harm's way for the team. He has done that in practice, and when you have your smaller players doing that, it gains the respect of all."

It certainly has done that already.

"He works hard," forward Chris Bosh said. "He's just got that look in his eye sometime. He's got that killer instinct. He just goes out and plays basketball. He enjoys himself out there. We're behind him and we know that he can play very well."

Cole said he appreciates the support of the team's leaders.

"They're like my big brothers," he said. "They keep me confident, and they're always telling me they believe in me."

For now, Cole said he is comfortable in his supporting role.

"Yes, I think it does suit me right now," he said. "I'm still learning, I still can get better and this is what's best for the team."

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