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Built Ram tough
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It was a very short summer vacation for some 30-plus prospective Newton High boys basketball players.

In fact, the voluntary summer workouts began the week immediately following graduation. Under the watchful eye of Newton coach Rick Rasmussen, eight varsity returnees - including starting senior guards Jamon Hawkins and Tee Farley - were joined by numerous young hopefuls.

"We have had a really good turnout," Rasmussen noted. "It takes a committed and mature player to sacrifice (his) summer free time to come in and play the game they love - basketball."

Following in the tradition of Newton basketball, Rasmussen and his staff have placed a strong emphasis on fundamentals and discipline.

"We have a great group of young men," Rasmussen said. "They have worked extremely hard and are learning the fundamentals and discipline of basketball that we believe are so important to success. The guys are coming together and pushing each other to get better. We are excited about going to camp and continuing to improve to get ready for the next season."

After a tough first week of two-a-day workouts, the Rams held their annual slam dunk and 3-point shooting contest last weekend.

Rising senior Demetrius McCray retained his dunk title for the second year in a row. His winning jam involved leaping over a stationary teammate and finishing the powerful dunk, reminiscent of Nate Robinson of the Knicks who leapt over Spud Webb.

"I like to show off my athletic ability," McCray admitted.

His athletic ability can also be seen running routes as a wide receiver for the Newton football team.

"I think we will do really well," McCray replied when asked of the upcoming season. "We have a good group of seniors to help lead our younger teammates."

The results of the 3-point shooting contest were really not a surprise to anyone who follows Newton basketball. The finals came down to a shoot-off between Hawkins and Farley. In the end, it was Hawkins who edged out Farley for the title.

"I am proud to be champion," Hawkins said. "I knew I could do it."

Nevertheless, Farley was pleased with the effort.

"It was very competitive," he said. "I knew it would come down to (Hawkins) and me."

Farley, the starting point guard and floor general of the Newton offense, also looks forward to the upcoming season.

"We need to keep working on our defense and also our aggressiveness on offense to be the best we can be," he said. "We have a really good chemistry on the team right now and should have a really good season, especially if Jamon and I hit our shots."

The Rams will have the chance to exhibit their talent after attending two summer camps and participating in a series of scrimmages at Ola High School.

From June 20-22, they will travel to Savannah State University for their first camp. But it will come as no easy task.

"We expect the Savannah State camp to be extremely competitive," Rasmussen said. "Some of the top teams in the state will be there, including Savannah, Beach, and Johnson-Savannah."

All three squads have been ranked among the top 10 in recent years. In 2007, 10th-ranked Newton battled third-ranked Beach in the state playoffs.

After participating in the three days of scrimmages at Ola, the Rams will then head to Georgia College in Milledgeville from June 26-28. And they have enjoyed great success there during the past two summers, going undefeated with a combined 21-0 record against strong Class AAAA and AAAAA competition.

Now the Newton coaching staff is challenging its players to live up to their motto: "Play like a Ram - be Ram tough."

Only time will tell if that happens.