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STATE BASKETBALL: Q&A with Newton boys coach Rick Rasmussen
Newton head coach Rick Rasmussen led his Rams squad to its second Final Four appearance in the last three years, despite having just one returning starter from last year's nationally ranked team. - photo by Anthony Banks

The third-ranked Newton Rams will lock horns with No. 2 Norcross Saturday at 4 p.m. at Buford City Arena, playing for a chance to meet either Meadowcreek or Grayson next Saturday for the Class AAAAAAA state championship. Sports editor, Gabriel Stovall caught up with Rasmussen after Friday's final practice before the game to gauge his thoughts on Norcross, the prospects of getting past the Final Four and the sweet feeling of sharing semifinals glory with coach Tiffani Johnson and the Lady Rams. 

Stovall: It’s a tough two-day turnaround after an emotional and exciting Elite Eight victory. How did you spend your time right after that big game?

Rasmussen: “Well, you know, it’s equal because the other team played the same night. That was my biggest concern, whether they would play Tuesday and get an extra day to rest, but since we both played on Wednesday it’s equal time off, so you can’t worry about that. But, you know, my night Wednesday was exciting but I went home, rewatched our game, went over our statistics to see how we could learn and grow from that. Then started watching the Norcross game around 2 a.m. I went to bed at 4 a.m. Woke up at 7:30 a.m. I’m sure other coaches did something similar. But we did our work so on Thursday’s practice we would have our full scouting report.

“From that we saw that Norcross is very talented. They have at least four Division I players in the starting lineup, and of course Dalvin White is a seasoned, veteran point guard, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. But it’s a good problem to have because it means we’re still playing.”

Stovall: How would you gauge your team’s readiness right now, as well as just their physical and emotional energy?

Rasmussen: “We’ve had two good practices. We’ve been focused. We’ve gone over the things we knew we had to go through, and we’ve talked about some of the things that they do and our expectations of that. We’ve talked about what we want to do defensively and offensively and the things we need to improve on. And hopefully that work will pay off and our guys will remain focused and ready to play.” 

Stovall: What do you feel like is one of the biggest challenges Norcross will throw at you? 

Rasmussen: “Well the talent is one thing, and they’re well-coached as well. It’ll be somewhat of a chess match in that regard. I think both teams are versatile and can adjust and do different things. I expect them to throw some different things at us and take away some things and just throw everything at us. We need to be ready to combat that and do what we do. It’ll be a big challenge.” 

Stovall: You guys have gotten close here a lot over the years. Is there an extra sense of wanting to get over that Final Four hump this year? 

Rasmussen: “Well you know only one team can win it. And in 7A in Georgia it’s loaded. I truly believe a lot of teams in 7A would win the other classifications’ state championships. If you look at the teams we’ve played and the schedule we’ve played, that’s done intentionally to prepare us for moments like this. We’ve played great venues and talented teams and done everything we can possibly do to be ready, so now you’ve just gotta trust the process and go out and do it.”

Stovall: How great is it just for the state of Newton basketball for both the girls and boys teams to have a shot at playing for a state championship together? 

Rasmussen: “With the girls here as well, it’s just outstanding. I’m really happy for Coach Johnson and her team and her whole staff. You know, I teach three of her players in my AP Literature class, and I’m really proud of them. They’re really good girls. They’ve got a lot of veterans and they’re really hungry. It’s great for both of us, and I think we may be the only school this year that’s got both teams in the Final Four. So I’m really excited about that. We’re adjusting our schedule to make sure we’re there at like 1:45 for when they tip off at 2 p.m. We’re gonna be pulling for them. They have a tough opponent as well with McEachern. But we’re going to be pulling for them. Both of us are playing, probably, teams that are favored, and that’s fine. But you’ve got to go out and play the game. So I like our chances. I like where we are, and we just need to go out and execute and try to keep it close and close the game out.”