'She's my balancer': Empowerment, religion and friendship

CMU's Senior center Rochelle Norris, Left, and forward graduate student Nadége Jean, Right, pose for a portrait, Dec. 5, Moore Hall. (CM-Life | Jenna Spanola)

When Graduate Forward Nadége Jean and Senior Center Rochelle Norris came to Central Michigan University in the 2022-23 season as transfers, they both were looking for a new start. 

Now, just a short year later, they not only have made an impact on the basketball court, but they have found a friendship that has meant the world to them. 

Both Jean and Norris started their college careers in different places. Coming out of Stafford, Virginia, Norris started her career at West Virginia University (WVU) and then transferred to Virginia Tech (VT). 

While she didn’t play at VT, Norris did find some playing time at WVU in her third year, averaging 3.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. During her career, Norris has faced injuries, which taught her a lot about mental toughness. 

“When I was hurt (at WVU), I was out, but that didn’t exclude me from still doing the extra stuff (and) the extra lifts,” Norris said. “All the challenging stuff, like, it really did help my mental (health). I realized that I can handle a lot more because of what I’ve been through.” 

On the other hand, Jean spent three years at Depaul, where she made 26 appearances in games. In her second year with the Blue Demons, she averaged 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. 

“(I’ve) definitely just taken away some of the principles that they’ve instilled in me,” Jean said. “And then obviously, coming from, a bigger program, we’ve done a lot of challenging things. 

“When we do stuff here ... it’s not as bad because I’ve been through worse, … It’s just built me for this.”

How they came together  

After spending most of their careers at different schools, they both felt it was right to go play at CMU.

Both said the previous coaches and the program’s history were reasons they wanted to be a Chippewa. 

“For me, I will say, like, the coaches, obviously, they’re not here anymore,” Jean said. “This was gonna be the first time I had a woman as a head coach. So just that type of change was something different that I was open to.”

Coming into the program at the same time, they both said they made different friends to start. 

However, after some time and long post-practice talks in the car, Jean said the two of them just “clicked.”

“Me and (Rochelle) just kind of like, attached to each other,” Jean said. “We hung out every day, and then (had) post-practice talks in the car. I feel like it’s a little easier because we are in the same position, so we kind of go through the same struggles.”

Norris said it is important for her to surround herself with people who have good morals. She said that seeing Jean as the person she is led her to want to be friends.

“(Nadége) is just a great person,” Norris said. 

Helping each other on the court 

As they started to build their friendship, they also started to rely on each other on the court. 

To help each other through the mental blocks they both struggle with, they started to say a funny phrase when they mess up on the court. One of them will yell “Frankenweenies” at the other to get past the mistake. 

“We kind of both had a problem, but I know… sometimes I get in my head a lot,” Jean said. “So we were just like, maybe we should just come up with something really random that would just like throw each other off when we get in our heads. So I was like ‘Frankenweenies.’ I don’t know why, it just came in my head.” 

Both have said that the other person is their “balancer,” and they keep each other in the right headspace. 

“Even when I’m talking bad about myself, (and) I’m frustrated, she’s like, ‘you’re good, bro, like you don’t suck, you’re not a bad player, it’s fine,’” Norris said. “When I see (Nadége), it’s like positive energy. It just makes me want to be happy because it’s like, ‘Well shoot, she’s in a good mood like what am I really upset for?’

“She really does hold me down.”

For Jean, Norris is someone she looks for when she is on the court.

“If I’m not looking at Coach Jenna (Allen), I’m looking at (Rochelle), so it’s just like always somebody to be like, ‘you’re good. It’s okay,’” Jean said. “I know a lot of the times when she says stuff, it’s coming from a good space. She’s not saying it to be a bad person, so… it’s really easy to listen to my best friend.”

Having that support system in place, they both have found success on the court for the Chippewas.

In Norris’ two years, she has started in 22 games, averaging 8.5 points per game while totaling 224 rebounds and 55 blocks.

In the forward position, Jean has also made an impact in her two years at CMU. She has come out of the gate strong to begin the 2023-24 season, averaging 8.7 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game. 

Growing together outside of basketball 

While the friendship helps them on the court, the two also have made an impact on each other’s lives outside of basketball. Norris and Jean said they are together every day, and they never stop laughing when they are around each other.

When Jean said Norris has helped her grow her relationship with God, Norris got emotional, as that is one of her goals. 

“That just really touched me,” Norris said about Jean’s comment. “(It’s) something I really am going for. It’s like making sure my teammates know that, like, God has shown that they can have eternal hope and eternal salvation.” 

One aspect of their friendship that both of them respect is their ability to be honest and real to each other when giving advice. 

“I talk to her about so much, like I go through so much, and Rochelle has always been a listening ear for me,” Jean said. “Even sometimes where I feel like ‘damn, I’m repeating the same thing over and over again, I’m stuck on the same situation.’ I always feel like (Rochelle) is just more than open to listen to me. 

“And it’s not just like, being a ‘yes man.’ She gives me the things that I don’t want to hear even though it’s gonna hurt my feelings. So, it’s just always having like a real person in your corner.” 

Their friendship also encourages them to be better people, Norris said. 

“I really do need her last year up until now, because we’ve gone through so much on our own,” Norris said. “We hold each other accountable, we work out together, we push each other to get better. 

“She really makes me want to be a better person, honestly.” 

What’s next?

As Jean and Norris continue the 2023-24 season, the two have become the leaders of a young CMU team, taking on the captain role together. 

“We’ve been saying that a lot, ‘we versus me,’” Jean said, “So, being a captain, I know, so many people look up to me that I gotta get out of my own head. … I try not to be as hard on myself, because I’m, like, I don’t want other people to see that and start doing it to themselves.”

“It’s definitely brought me out of my comfort zone,” Norris said. “I didn’t talk nearly as much last year, but now I’m in a role where I have to be more assertive. And I have to say certain things even when I’m uncomfortable, but if it’s to better the team, I just got to make that sacrifice.” 

As the captain, Jean wants to see the team continue to fight and work hard to reach its goals. 

“I feel like at some point last year, we kind of all clocked out mentally, and I just want us to stay the course the whole way through,” Jean said. “Even our coaches say they’re okay if we lose, it’s just how we lose.” 

Norris said her goal for herself is to continue to learn from everything, whether on the court or off. 

“This is my last run … (I want to) take a step forward and not a step back,” Norris said. “So, I say (my goal is) getting better for the team (and) for myself. You know, making sure that I’m doing the best I can for my team when we are out there, so that we can all be better together.”