King's Court: Top Recruit Malik Newman Moves Needle with His Game and Branding

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King's Court: Top Recruit Malik Newman Moves Needle with His Game and Branding
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — He’s ranked as the top senior guard in the country, but that isn’t the only way Malik Newman has distinguished himself from the rest of the class of 2015.

Newman—just 17 years old—also has his own professional website.

Log on to IAmMalikNewman.com, and you’ll find videos chronicling Newman’s junior year of high school, a bullet-point list of his career achievements dating back to seventh grade and links to newspaper articles about the 6’3” guard from Jackson, Mississippi.

There’s even a “Lifestyle” section with photos of Newman posing in designer threads. And in the site’s top left corner of each page, a bold letter “M” sits on top of an “N.”

That’s right. Newman has his own logo.

“People kept asking me questions about where I was going and what I was doing next,” Newman said. “This is just a way to show people part of my everyday life.”

While the website may seem over the top to some, there’s no denying that information about Newman is in high demand.

And it should only increase during the next nine months.

Ranked No. 2 overall by Rivals.com, Newman said he plans to wait until the spring to pick a college. He’s already received in-home visits from Kansas, Florida, Connecticut, Kentucky and Mississippi State.

Newman has said repeatedly that he and No. 6-ranked Diamond Stone, a 6’10” power forward from Milwaukee, want to sign with the same college as a “package deal.” Newman and Stone became close while playing for USA Basketball’s U-16 team last summer in Uruguay.

“As of now,” Newman told Bleacher Report, “the package deal is still on. It’s still 100 percent.”

Newman, who will miss this week's Peach Jam with a sprained hand, doesn’t have eye-popping size or length. Rather, it’s his ability to score that has elevated him toward the top of his class.

Newman’s picture-perfect jump shot gives him range well beyond the three-point line. He also isn’t afraid to slash into the lane, where his chiseled, 180-pound frame helps him finish through contact.

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Eric Bossi compared Newman to former Connecticut star and NBA guard Ben Gordon. He said Newman needs to continue to enhance his point guard skills since he lacks the height of a prototypical NBA shooting guard.

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“He’s a streak shooter, a streak scorer who plays with a ton of confidence,” Bossi said. “High school kids tend to get down on themselves pretty quickly when things don’t go their way.

“With Malik, I’ve seen him have a 1-for-15 shooting game, shake it right off and then go out and score 30 the next game. He doesn’t let a string of negative plays turn into a long series of negative plays.”

Newman is the son of former Mississippi State standout Horatio Webster, a 6’7” forward who played professionally in Argentina and Canada. Still, while he may have inherited some of his father’s athletic genes, his success was developed through his own hard work and a passion for the game that was visible at an early age.

When Newman was seven, his father bought him a bicycle.

A few days later, it was gone.

“I gave it to my cousin,” Newman said. “He really wanted it and I knew I wouldn’t use it much. All I wanted to do was play basketball.”

By the time he was 13, local newspapers were writing feature stories about Newman and schools were sending him letters and reaching out to his father. During his junior year at Callaway High School, the Clarion Ledger produced a video series about the state’s most-talked-about player.

The attention forced Newman to mature more quickly than most teenagers. Seeing his name in print or his face on television is simply part of his everyday routine, right along with taking calls from college coaches.

“It’s not as crazy as everyone thinks it is,” Newman said. “My dad and everyone that’s around has done an excellent job of helping me stay focused. We keep things calm with the recruiting and don’t get too crazy about it. They’ve done a good job of keeping me level-headed.”

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Indeed, aside from his scoring, the trait that impresses college coaches the most about Newman is his leadership. As gifted as he is offensively, he rarely forces shots. He understands the importance of getting his teammates involved and of keeping everyone’s spirits high on the court and in the huddle.

“Look at the way he walks,” one college coach said while watching Newman at the LeBron James Skills Academy last week. “Look at how he carries himself and how he interacts with his teammates. He’s got a presence about him. That’s something you can’t teach.”

It’s also the main reason Newman has led his high school squad to three consecutive state titles. He said no player from Mississippi has ever won four straight state crowns. Can he be the first?

“That’s the plan,” Newman said. “I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.

“If we’re winning, everyone is shining. I’d hate for someone to say, ‘Malik had 40, but they didn’t win.’ That wouldn’t look good. I’m not trying to get 40. I’m trying to get a win. Winning is what makes good players great.”

Even though he may be classified as “great,” Newman vows he’s not buying into his own hype. Not yet.

The people he respects the most won’t let him.

“They remind me each and every day that I haven’t made it to the NBA yet,” Newman said. “Some people think I may get that chance someday and some think I won’t. They tell me even if I am going to make it, I’m not there yet.

“I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

***

High school prospects weren’t the only ones present at the LeBron James Skills Academy last week in Las Vegas. A group of college standouts went through workouts and scrimmages, too. Here are a few who stood out:

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: The best player at the camp is now a legitimate 6’9”. Dekker, who was 6’7” at the end of last season, matched up with LeBron James during a good portion of a Thursday afternoon scrimmage and scored on The King a handful of times. I fully expect Wisconsin to be in the NCAA title hunt thanks to players such as Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky.

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Perry Ellis, Kansas: While most of the offseason talk in Lawrence has centered on newcomers Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Devonte Graham, Ellis could end up being the Jayhawks’ most productive player. The junior forward was money from everywhere on the court in Las Vegas, where he showed off his ability to put the ball on the floor and slash toward the basket.

Marcus Foster, Kansas State: A sleeper no more, I can’t help but wonder if Foster will see some spot duty as a point guard in 2014-15. There’s isn’t a lot the sophomore can’t do.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The guard proclaimed to CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello that the Sooners would win the Big 12 title this season. Considering the way Hield played last week, that might not be far-fetched.

R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: The son of head coach Ron Hunter could emerge as one of the country’s best three-point shooters this season. The 6’5” Hunter was on fire all week and could end up averaging even more than the 18.3 points per game he scored as a junior last season.

Bobby Portis, Arkansas: The Razorbacks have yet to reach the NCAA tournament under fourth-year coach Mike Anderson, but I won’t be surprised if their fortunes change thanks to the 6’10” Portis, a high-motor sophomore who dominated at times in Vegas.

***

Notable players who weren’t at the invite-only camp included guards Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Fred VanVleet (Wichita State) and Terran Petteway (Nebraska). No one from Kentucky attended, either. But that was because the Wildcats were holding workouts in preparation for their preseason trip to the Bahamas.

***

I had a chance to speak with Oregon guard Joseph Young, one of three scholarship players remaining from last year’s NCAA tournament team. Three players from that squad (Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin) were dismissed in May following allegations of a sexual assault, although they were never charged.

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“It’s just one of those things,” Young said. “When you fall, you have to pick yourself back up. We’ve got a good team coming in. We can’t harp on what happened. We’ve got to build with what we’ve got. I’m the leader of the team, so it’s on me to make it happen.”

Young, who averaged 18.9 points as a junior last season, said he considered entering the NBA draft but felt as if he still had room for improvement. He played shooting guard last season but will likely see significant action at point guard following the departure of Artis, Dotson and Johnathan Loyd.

“It may change things a little bit,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “But we’ll still need him to do what he does best, which is score the ball.”

***

The big news this week is that SMU signee Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2014, will play for an overseas team next season before entering the NBA draft in the spring. Mudiay said his decision to turn pro now instead of attending SMU was based solely on the need to help his mother financially.

The knee-jerk reaction to Mudiay’s decision is that it could be the start of a trend where players routinely opt to bypass college in favor of a lucrative one-year deal overseas. That’s flawed logic for multiple reasons, as the Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy pointed out in this excellent column.

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DeCourcy reminds us that Brandon Jennings struggled mightily during his one season overseas in 2009 and was miserable throughout most of that season. Since then, only one other player (Jeremy Tyler) has chosen the European route. College is still the best option.

As for SMU, the loss of Mudiay is a big blow to the Mustangs, who would’ve likely opened the 2014-15 season ranked in the Top 10-15. Still, there is plenty of reason for optimism for Larry Brown’s squad. SMU returns almost all of its key players (including point guard Nic Moore and forward Markus Kennedy, both studs) while adding high-profile transfers Justin Martin of Xavier and Jordan Tolbert of Texas Tech. The Mustangs should still be in the Top 20. 

***

 

Random Musings/Thoughts About Food

My first of three summer trips to Las Vegas is in the books. Between covering the LeBron camp and watching some NBA Summer League games, I didn’t have a ton of free time. But I did manage to sneak in a few good meals. (Unfortunately, I also had what may have been the worst meal of my eating career at Blondie’s Sport Bar & Grill at Planet Hollywood, but I won’t go into details.)

Here are a few highlights:

N9NE Steakhouse, Palms Casino: Easily—and, not surprisingly—the best meal of the trip. Pretzel bread, shrimp, wedge salad, jalapeno and cheese scallop potatoes, cream corn, asparagus and a 16-ounce bone-in filet at my favorite restaurant in Vegas. Something tells me I might not get reimbursed for this one.

Wicked Spoon, Cosmopolitan: It always cracks me up to look at my plate after walking through a Vegas buffet. Somehow I managed to cram two slices of meat lovers pizza, orange chicken, sliced pork belly, mac and cheese, a sausage link and a mound of noodles onto my glass Frisbee. And that was just Round 1. Then came the butter pecan pancakes with coconut glaze accompanied by a ramekin of Caesar salad.

Pin-Up Pizza, Planet Hollywood: If the always-slow line at Cosmopolitan’s Secret Pizza is too long, take the skywalk over to Planet Hollywood, go down the escalator and buy a huge slice for $6 at this relatively new Vegas gem. Is it as good as the pie at Cosmo? No. But it’s very, very close. And much bigger. And cheaper. And faster.

XTRA Flamin’ Hot Cheetos: I discovered these at a 7-Eleven near the Cashman Center. They haven’t made their way to the Midwest yet, and that’s probably a good thing, because I couldn’t stop eating them. My mouth is still on fire.

Until next week ...

 

Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.

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