There's a new basketball prodigy you need to know, a high-school player turning quite a few heads in Central Florida.
His name is Julian Newman, and he's the starting point guard for Downey Christian School.
Oh, and he's in the fifth grade.
Yes, you read that correctly. From Mike Tierney of The New York Times:
His jersey straps are twisted and bound with plastic ties to prevent them from slipping down his bony 4-foot-5, 70-pound frame. Tricolor socks with pastel waves cover his size 4 feet, conveying the notion that he might be a stylish student manager.
At road games, the boy, point guard Julian Newman, is asked, "Are you on the team?" Here, in the Patriots' gymnasium, there is no doubt.
The grand marshal of the player parade, Julian, an 11-year-old fifth grader, guides his team into warm-ups, bouncing two balls at once. He glides into a pregame routine that shuffles through jab steps, hesitation moves and effortless dribbles—between his pipestem legs, behind his back, rapid crossovers. The scene is incongruous enough to seem computer-animated.
And the kid has game. Serious game. But I wouldn't expect you to take my word for it.
Tierney's story on Newman is fascinating (and well worth a few of your minutes). It paints the picture of a young boy who is extremely dedicated to getting better at the sport, often practicing for hours on his own each day while maintaining straight-A's in school.
His teammates have accepted him amongst their ranks, mostly because he's better than them. It can't be easy to admit that a fifth grader has more game than you do as a young man, I'm sure, but the team's 18-5 record has probably helped smooth over any stung egos.
Not everyone's ego has adjusted to the fifth-grader's skills, however.
Tierney also notes that five teams forfeited games rather than face Downey Christian School. Sparing yourself the embarrassment of being beaten by a fifth-grader is offset by the embarrassment of forfeiting to him, isn't it?
And then there's the future—it's very possible that Newman won't ever be very tall. Tierney notes that both of Newman's parents are short, that only one of his relatives is 6'0" and his own father is hoping his son will someday reach 5'10".
Ah, the potential curse of genes.
It's one reason why you wonder if this "prodigy story," like so many prodigy stories before it, might be a little premature.
It's not fun to talk about, but the Internet Age has changed how we view young athletes in this country. The AAU culture has turned high-school sports into another extension of the NCAA and NBA. Suddenly, high-school kids are "the future" before they can legally go into a rated-R movie.
As sports fans, we've become hipsters of sorts, always hoping to be the one that recognized "the next big thing" well before anyone else had heard of him.
It puts a lot of pressure on kids. A lot.
Of course, Newman could very well be the next Allen Iverson or even Nate Robinson—small players have succeeded in the NBA before, after all. And the kid is only in the fifth grade, so we have no idea how he'll develop as a player or how much he might grow in the next seven years.
Plus, it seems that his insular focus isn't a product of his parents, but rather is his alone. I was reminded of learning about Magic Johnson's childhood and how he would dribble a basketball beside himself wherever he went, and Newman possesses that type of dedication.
And by the time high school actually rolls around for him, I'm sure he'll be quite used to all of the attention.
So for now, I'll take this for what it is—a fun story about a fifth-grader with crazy talent and single-minded focus that has led his high-school team to a very successful season. Here's to hoping we're all reading about the successes of Newman for many years to come.