COVINGTON, Ga. -- It’s the end of an era for Newton Basketball.
As reported Tuesday morning, head coach Rick Rasmussen has announced that he will be leaving Newton High School and has accepted a job at North Oconee in Bogart, Georgia.
He’s been with the Newton basketball program for the better part of 21 seasons, 14 of those as head coach, where he amassed a 308-96 career record and took the Rams program to seven region titles. Four final four appearances, and 17-state ranked finishes.
That kind of consistency earned him region coach of the year honors five times as well as Class AAAAAAA coach of the year in 2016.
During his tenure at the helm of one of the top basketball programs in the state, Rasmussen has coached teams that have helped provide so many memories that make up his legacy.
Even in just almost three years since the current Covington News staff has been covering Newton basketball, we have seen many moments ourselves. Some of those we've captured in this photo gallery. Many of these moments are some of the best we have seen in our time of hands-on sports coverage in general, and our staff will likely never forget them even if one day, like Rasmussen, we all move on to new ventures,
So, in honor of Coach Ras, here are some of the top moments in Newton basketball that we were fortunate enough to see in person.
1. Newton breaks 100 points against Peachtree Ridge
Going in to the 2016-2017 playoffs, Newton basketball was not only one of the best teams in the state, but in the country as well. The team was loaded with talent with players like JD Notae, Isaiah Miller, Darvin Jones and of course, Ashton Hagans all fielding a deep squad that was the favorite to win the Class AAAAAAA state title. While they didn’t achieve that feat, they did start the playoffs with a bang, scoring 100 points against the Lions in the first round. Not only will this game hold a special place in the legacy of coach Ras, but this was the first sporting event I covered in my time at the Covington News, meaning it holds a special place in my heart as well.
2. 2017 playoff game vs Wheeler, Hagans highlight moment.
Like 2016, Newton entered the 2017-2018 playoffs as one of the favorites for a potential state title. However, a huge challenge faced them in the form of EJ Montgomery and the Wheeler Wildcats in the Elite Eight. Fans packed the gym for what would become an instant classic. Newton would eventually pull away with an 87-81 win and would meet Norcross in the Final four. The biggest moment of the night, though, came when Newton standout Ashton Hagans took flight directly over the 6-foot-10 Montgomery for a monster dunk that caused the entire gym to erupt. Being that this dunk took place right in front of me right as I was trying to get out my phone to continue my social media coverage, I was a little disappointed not capturing such a close perspective, but the image will forever remain in my memory. The best part of this moment is the fact that Hagans and Montgomery are now teammates for college basketball blue-blood Kentucky Wildcats.
3. The game where Rasmussen was there even when he wasn’t.
Just a couple of months ago, Newton won its first-round playoff game in a thorough 77-54 drubbing of Lambert. While a 23-point win in the playoffs is impressive enough, the Rams did it with Rasmussen absent from the sideline. Despite the absence, assistant coach Terrance Demps led the team to the victory, employing the game plan Rasmussen and company had worked up in preparation in the week prior. After the game, players and coaches gave all the credit to Coach Ras for the win because of the expectation of excellence he had built within the program. It was sort of a moment where it proved that if you build something right it can kind of run itself. The respect for Rasmussen articulated by the players and coaches spoke volumes to not just the kind of coach he was for the Rams, but the kind of man he is.
4. Westlake vs. Newton — The Overtime Edition.
Everybody knew that this game was thee game.
Newton was a high-flying, high-scoring, nationally ranked juggernaut, loaded with Division I talent and Westlake was the defending state champion who knocked them off in the Final Four the previous year. It was a battle of future SEC basketball stars with Westlake’s Chuma Okeke, now at Auburn, and Newton’s Ashton Hagans at Kentucky. And the game was so good, it needed three extra frames in order to settle it.Newton finally prevailed, 89-83 in triple overtime, and there are two images I won’t soon forget from that game. The first was captured and used for a column I wrote in the aftermath. It was a photo of then-sophomore Ashton Hagans hugging senior JD Notae, with Hagans looking wide-eyed and full of joy while Notae had the look of an exhausted prize fighter at the end of a Rocky movie — mouthpiece and all.
The second image was of Rasmussen as he talked about the game. The coach, in postgame interviews, is typically reserved and thorough in his comments. And he was here too. But you could tell there was a little something extra in his demeanor after this one. I feel like all of us in the building that night was fairly positive that we were looking at an eventual state champion after that one.
5. Win No. 300
We’d actually started tracking it at the end of the 2017-18 season. We knew that depending on how things went in the next season, we’d be writing about a major coaching milestone for Rasmussen. The fact that he got it this season turned out to be pretty special. For one, he did it in a year where most Georgia high school basketball prognosticators were forecasting a down year for the Rams after losing Ashton Hagans a year early to Kentucky. If I recall correctly, Newton wasn’t in many, if any, preseason polls. And some probably weren’t expecting the kind of seasons Tre Clark, Armani Harris and Tyrease Brown would have this year either. Brown’s scoring numbers were a bit down because people were clamping on him on the perimeter defensively. But it gave them the chance to show other aspects of his game.
The 300th win came against Newton’s most clear rival, Eastside. And ultimately we’d find that it would come in Rasmussen’s final season at the school and with a senior class that’s probably won more total games than any other four-year group in recent memory. When you look back at it all, it almost felt scripted. But in truth, it was as legit as the coach’s legacy he’s leaving behind.