By JOEL COLEMAN
He’s one of the most highly touted recruits to ever become a Bulldog, regardless of sport. He’s Malik Newman, and he’s just a few months away from trying to help turn around the recent fortunes of Mississippi State basketball. Today, we have a couple of Malik stories. First, a tale of his relationship with fellow point guard I.J. Ready. Then, a closer look at how Newman feels he’s adjusting to life at MSU. Hope you’ve had a great Thursday everyone!
Ready and Newman develop tight bond
By JOEL COLEMAN
It’s funny how things work out.
I.J. Ready remembers well the first time he hit the basketball court with Mississippi State’s all-everything freshman guard Malik Newman. Ready, a junior guard for the Bulldogs, entered the encounter as the seasoned veteran, toughened with two years of Southeastern Conference hoops under his belt, while Newman burst onto the scene as arguably the most-touted signee in the history of the school.
“First day, we bumped heads and we went at it,” Ready recalls. “When you have two alpha males that want to compete with each other and say that they are the best, they bump heads. I guess it’s just mutual respect. When you’re on the basketball court, there’s really no friends.”
It’s a good thing Ready and Newman left the court that day then, because ever since, they’ve been nearly inseparable.
“I.J. and him, they’re like two peas in a pod,” said senior teammate Gavin Ware.
From the outside looking in, the close relationship might seem to be unique. Here’s Ready, a young man who has played in 55 games and drawn 42 starts in his career, almost certain to lose at least some playing time to Newman, the McDonald’s All-American and two-time Mr. Basketball for the state of Mississippi.
Yet the situation has been anything but combustible. In fact, it has been highly productive.
“Between me and I.J., it has been very competitive,” Newman said. “He’s one of those guys that took me under his wing early and he’s teaching me the ropes of being a point guard right now.”
From a physical standpoint, Ready says there isn’t much to teach the incredibly talented Newman. Using the same traits that wowed spectators during his years at Callaway High, Newman is close to a polished product on the outside. However, Ready says he has, from time to time, tried to keep a fire lit under Newman, instructing and encouraging his new friend to keep the intensity level up.
“When he first came, I just wanted to teach him you’ve got to go hard every day,” Ready said. “There’s never a day where you can come and slack and think you can win a game. So on days he comes in and feels like he’s lazy, I try to give him a wake-up call to make sure he knows the competition is high every day.
“He has the talent level and he has the work ethic and the confidence. We both have that, so for me to push him every day is the biggest thing because you have to bring it consistently.”
Newman should be highly motivated to adhere to Ready’s advice. The spotlight will be on the youngster all year as most analysts have Newman pegged as a one-and-done player that will enter, and be selected highly, in the 2016 NBA Draft.
For his part though, Newman says none of that is weighing on his mind.
“Whether they have me at the bottom of the radar or the top of the radar or the middle, at the end of the day, I still have to go out and perform,” Newman said.
There’s one thing Newman can count on though. No matter what success or trials he endures during the 2015-2016 season, he’ll have no bigger supporter than his new best buddy. And to think, it all started that very first day on the hardwood.
“The bond, it’s pretty weird,” Ready said. “It came from the basketball court.
“Ever since then, we’ve had fun and connected like nobody else. Even after we leave (workouts) after seeing him and being with him for 11 or 12 hours, even when we leave and go home, we’ll FaceTime until 11 o’clock at night.”
With the duo on the same page and pushing each other constantly, the question now becomes whether or not the two can lead Mississippi State basketball back to its winning ways.
Newman can’t help but envision that success is just around the corner.
“Every time I walk through the Hump, I just picture it and hope it’s packed out and we just have an exciting game that fans will love to come see each and every night,” Newman said.
Newman adjusting well to life as a Bulldog
By JOEL COLEMAN
Malik Newman has been proving for years that he knows how to handle himself on the basketball court.
Long before the McDonald’s All-American announced he was going to be a Bulldog earlier this year, it was widely assumed that his skills will allow him to be an early selection in the 2016 National Basketball Association Draft.
So exactly what does a player the caliber of Newman struggle with when he joins a big-time college basketball program?
“The only problem I really had was just managing my time,” Newman said last week. “But now, I’ve got that out of the way and everything is good so, right now we’re just getting better each and every day.”
It’s almost scary to think that Newman could actually be getting any better on the hardwood than he was in his days playing at Callaway High School in Jackson.
Newman, a two-time Mr. Basketball for the state of Mississippi and three-time Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen selection, led the Chargers to four state championships in his prep career. In his senior year at Callaway, Newman averaged 29.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game to cap off a career that saw him total 3,108 points, 651 rebounds, 301 assists and 195 steals.
With numbers like those, it’s little wonder why Callaway retired Newman’s No. 14 jersey earlier this spring. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that the reputation he built for himself has allowed him to become an immediate leader on the Mississippi State team.
“I ask him for advice sometimes,” said MSU senior guard Craig Sword. “He’s a great player so I get some things from him instead of him asking me things.”
Such praise shouldn’t come lightly from Sword, who has led the Bulldogs in scoring in each of the last three seasons. Sword isn’t the only individual heaping compliments onto Newman though. On top of being projected to go early in the NBA Draft according to several analysts, there have been other rumblings of preseason honors already.
College basketball insider Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports Network named Newman a preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection and SEC impact freshman on his Twitter account last week. Such projections also led Rothstein to name Mississippi State as a preseason sleeper team in the league.
Newman, with all the poise of a seasoned veteran, is taking all the early accolades in stride, knowing they mean little without production once the season tips off.
“I think all that is great to have, but at the end of the day, I’ve still got to put on that Mississippi State jersey and go out and perform,” Newman said. “Preseason really doesn’t mean anything. I’m really just trying to wait until the season comes and just wait until things work themselves out.”
Loaded with talent and promise, you’d think it’d be easy for Newman to just assume he’s destined for success. Yet the high expectations don’t seem to be slowing down Newman at all. In fact, it appears quite the opposite.
Under the guidance of director of basketball performance David Deets, Newman is physically progressing quickly.
“I think I’ve gained nine or 10 pounds worth of muscle,” said Newman. “That’s something I know I’ll need with all the big, strong guys in the SEC and even with the nonconference games that we have. So I’m taking the weight room very serious right now.”
Newman will finally get the chance to put his new size to work when the Bulldogs begin their season on November 13 at the Humphrey Coliseum against Eastern Washington. From there, he’ll go on to try and meet or exceed the high bar that both he and others have set for himself.
Newman looks forward to that challenge. After all, it’s just basketball – the game he’s been excelling at for years.
“Only thing that I can see that’s different (in college) is the guys get bigger and stronger and the court gets longer, but at the end of the day it’s still a basketball game,” Newman said. “I have confidence in myself and my team that we can go out and perform with anybody each and every night.”