The Newton High School boys basketball program has established a winning tradition throughout the years.
Even though this year's squad only returns one starter - senior Sean Monk - head coach Rick Rasmussen is optimistic heading into the season.
"We are really eager to get started," said Rasmussen. "We had a great off-season and the kids have really worked hard together."
His squad posted a perfect 10-0 record during summer camp at Georgia College, winning the camp championship for the second year in a row.
"Outside of our region we need to do well because you've got to build some momentum," said Rasmussen. "There's no game on our schedule that's guaranteed. We've just got to take it one game at a time and do the best we can."
Last Thursday, the Rams traveled to Monroe Area for their opening exhibition game, where they throttled the Purple Hurricanes by a final score of 65-34. It was a balanced team effort as four Rams hit double figures and everyone on the bench was able to gain some valuable playing time. In fact, the first half score was an amazing 34-5.
"Our defense was amazing and we shot the ball really well," recalled Rasmussen. "It's not often that you can hold a team to single digits for a full 16 minutes of play."
Besides Monk, other returnees for the Rams include the high-flying Montrell "Hops" Grimes, sharpshooter Jamon "Jayhawk" Hawkins and the tenacious Tevin "Spider-Man" Bradley. All of the abovementioned players played important roles throughout the region and state tournament last season.
"Tee" Farley, Omar Crawley, Derrick Henry and Demetrius McCray are also primed to contribute. McCray brings his aerial acrobatics from the football field to the hardwood courts. Football standout Ruben Hatchett, Jonathan Turner, Jared Mann, Charles Edwards, Windell Darrington and Matthew Powell complete the varsity roster for the Rams.
"I think this team right now has better leadership than we did last year," noted Rasmussen. "This team has really rallied around each other, and the thing I like is their attitudes are good."
Rasmussen enters his third season as head coach and 10th season overall at Newton. In seven of the previous nine years during his tenure, the Rams have won 20 or more games and made it to the state playoffs, including a Final Four appearance in 2005. In fact, Rasmussen knows what his team must do to be successful.
"Our team is built on two key points: fundamentals and discipline," he said. "From day one we have stressed both of these points. We have to play really strong defense and work hard at blocking out and rebounding to help make up for our lack of size."
Rasmussen likes what he has seen so far from his team as he spoke about its chemistry. "We have a very good group of young talent (who) gets along well together and likes each other. We believe we have the potential for another exciting season."
But it will not be an easy chore for the Rams in order to experience another great year. Playing in Region 2-AAAAA is no small task. They must take on the likes of Stephenson, M.L. King, Lithonia, Redan, Douglass, Luella and Union Grove.
Newton's non-region home games include Jackson, Salem, Alcovy and Eastside. The first will be Tuesday against Jackson, followed by a short trip across the county to archrival Eastside for a battle with the Eagles on Dec. 1.
"We need to start the season strong," said Rasmussen. "Hopefully we can build on the Monroe game and improve as the season goes on. If we continue to play with fundamentals and discipline, we'll give ourselves a chance to win night in and night out.
"The guys have worked really hard and have been a pleasure to coach so far," added Rasmussen. "They should be fun and exciting to watch, and I'm looking forward to the challenge, so all Ram-faithful mark Tuesday on your calendars."