Florida Gulf Coast University forward Marc-Eddy Norelia is from Haiti but now fully “Americanized,” as he put it, having lived in this country longer than his native land.
Yet he always wants to be cognizant of his roots, always wants to appreciate where he’s been.
That way, he can appreciate where he is.
“That’s one thing I’ve been trying to remind myself, now that I’m so blended into this new culture — to remember where I came from,” he said. “Everything is a little blessing. Something that you have in life 24-7 is a blessing, and don’t take it for granted.”
Norelia, a 6-8 redshirt junior, is averaging 16 points and 9.6 rebounds, both tops on the team.
More than that, though, he has carved out a life. He is on schedule to earn a communications degree next spring, and has given some thought to working toward a second undergraduate degree, or perhaps minoring in another course of study. And after that, he will consider his career options.
None of this would have been possible if in third grade he hadn’t accompanied his family to the U.S. from Haiti, which according to the World Bank is the world’s poorest nation.
The numbers are staggering: 77% poverty rate … over half the country’s 10 million residents living on less than $1 a day … thousands killed in a 2010 earthquake (the estimates run as few as 46,000, according to USAID, to as high as 316,000, according to the Haitian government).
The basic comforts Americans take for granted are but a rumor in Haiti, Norelia said. Take electricity, for example.
“You buy meat, that meat will have to be cooked that same day, because you can’t refrigerate it,” he said. “And it’s not like you watch television. You’ve got to go outside and enjoy yourself.”
There was, understandably, an adjustment period when he came to Apopka, Fla., all those years ago. He spoke only Creole, so he had to learn a new language. And the food took some getting used to as well.
“Back in Haiti we would eat mainly rice, beans, chicken, mac and cheese,” he said. “Here it was more like burgers, pizza and stuff like that.”
He began playing basketball with friends while in sixth grade, and tried out for his middle-school team the following year, only to be cut.
“In the eighth grade I came back more determined,” he said.
He also came back bigger, having grown to at least 6-2 by his recollection, some nine inches taller than he had been in fifth grade.
By his sophomore year at Orlando’s Olympia High, he began to blossom. The following year he attracted the attention of recruiters. North Florida and South Alabama were interested in Norelia, who averaged 17.9 points and 9.7 rebounds over the course of his high school career, but he ultimately wound up at Tulane.
Loved the school, hated being so far away from home.
So after playing just 16 minutes over nine games for the Green Wave in 2012-13 he sought a transfer, reaching out to the contacts he had made at FGCU while in high school. (It should also be remembered that the 2012-13 season was the one that saw the Eagles make their memorable NCAA Tournament run, beating Georgetown and San Diego State while playing a free-wheeling style that spawned their “Dunk City” nickname.)
Norelia sat out the 2013-14 season, then averaged 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds a game last season, mostly off the bench.
And now he’s the guy — team captain, post presence, the whole deal.
“I’m focusing on being more consistent with it,” he said. “It’s easier when people aren’t worried about you, and you just go do what you do. When the attention and focus is on you, it’s a little bit different dynamic.”
He’s focusing on something else, too – where he’s been. That way, he can appreciate where he is.