When you walk into Newton boys basketball coach Rick Rasmussen’s office, it’s situated like a shrine to all things Newton hoops.
You’ve got pictures of legendary coaches like Billy Hendricks, who won over 400 games during his time at the school. And then there’s photos of Ron Bradley, whose 49 year coaching career — and 1,019 career wins — was enough to push him into the National High School Hall of Fame.
Rasmussen talks proudly about having that kind of coaching mentorship pedigree. He’s been at Newton since 1998 as an assistant, and although he didn’t come with plans of hanging around forever, it just kind of worked out that way.
“When I came here, I met my wife and her parents were working here, so I it was more like I married the school more than just marrying her,” Rasmussen said.
He goes on to talk about the vast tradition that is Newton Rams basketball, including the 129 straight basketball wins on the old Newton homecourt housed by the Covington YMCA. He speaks fondly of conversations he had and wise old sayings and anecdotes passed on to him from the two grizzled veterans that preceded him.
And Rasmussen doesn’t just talk about it. He engages you. He sits at the edge of his seat, and his hands moderately strike the desk as he drives home his point about why this particular Newton player was significant or why another Newton team could’ve won it all, but…
When it comes to that — the subject of winning a state championship — Rasmussen and Newton have a lot of “buts.” Since the 1964 crown, the Rams have been runners up three times, been to eight final fours — three of which have come under Rasmussen’s tenure — not to mention the various Elite Eight and other state tournament appearances.
Rasmussen and his Newton teams have been close. Too close…closer than he would like to be without having the distinction of being able to say, ‘I’ve won it all.’
Yet he does what most good coaches on the high school level do when talking about the importance of wins, losses and trophies juxtaposed to the laying of a foundation that turns young adolescent athletes into grown, mature men and women — he downplays the tangible markers of success.
“We were really close last year,” he said. He scoots up in his seat so much so that his stomach presses against his desk, and with a smile and a whisper he reiterates the point
“Real close. It was just outside our grasp. We were right there, so close we felt we could taste it.”
Of course he’s talking about his team’s 64-59 loss to eventual Class AAAAAA state champion Westlake. And though Rasmussen smiles when he talks about it, it would be wise not to mistake that smile for a lack of competitive desire when it comes to winning it all.
He looks at this current roster, full of returning studs and gaggle of legit Division I prospects Ashton Hagans and J.D. Notae — who just committed over the weekend to Jacksonville University — not to mention Josh Tukes, Tyrease Brown, Wendel Lee and high scoring Eastside transfer Isaiah Miller, and he sees a team that can do what no other has done in 52 years.
“This is probably the most talented bunch of guys I’ve had here,” he said. “We’ve got the pieces. All we’re missing is that 6-foot-9 big man. But because we’re smaller, we know how to be smart in how we scheme. I think this team, if we can gel, we have the ability to get back to that point.”
And beyond. Which, no matter how much he tries to downplay it, you can tell that’s really where he wants to be. Beyond the point of almost making it. Beyond the point of “wait until next year.”
As he talked about all things Newton basketball, Rasmussen took a couple of longing glances at a sign and an article that talked about his winning his 200th game against Lovejoy High back in 2015. He talks about his 231-82 record — a 74 percent winning clip.
Six state tournament appearances — many in the state’s largest class? The Final Fours and Elite Eights? Yep, he mentions all of those things, not to mention all of the players who have walked the Newton halls and gone on to play college ball. But you can tell he’s leaving space in that resume for that ultimate conversation piece.
He won’t say it with his lips, but you can hear it in his voice — maybe even see it in his eyes as he talks about this team’s potential. And maybe. Just maybe, this time next year when we’re talking about the 2017-18 season, he’ll be able to talk about that one elusive accomplishment that finally couldn’t get away.
Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor at The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 as well as our sports Twitter page @CovNewsSports.