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HOOPS PREVIEW: Newton boys basketball running after state title goal
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All of Newton’s offseason preparations have been motivated and fueled by state title dreams for 2022-23. - photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — Finishing 2021 as the No. 4 team in the state and as region runners up left the Newton Rams boys basketball team with a bitter taste in its mouth. Now, with a new season on the horizon, the Rams have reset and refocused on the ultimate goal they hope to achieve — a state championship. 

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years and we go after the same goal every year,” head coach Charlemagne Gibbons said. “Every year you want to be the state champ.” 

A lot of the same faces will be featured on the basketball court for Newton this season. Players like Stephon Castle, Jakai Newton and MJ Whitlock return for their senior seasons. But the Rams did lose last year’s centers in Malachi Hardy, Daniel Pounds and Miokaye Grant. 

Those three players’ absence this season will cause Newton to play a different style. 

“What we lost with them is the way we’re changing the way we play faster. So, we lost a little size, but it will allow us to play a little bit faster,” Gibbons said. “This team really runs well and runs hard with consistency.”

Castle, who is a five-star UConn commit, led the Rams last year with 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Indiana commit Jakai Newton averaged 14.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game along with three-point maestro Whitlock who contributed 14 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest. 

Gibbons highlighted how important the returning players’ leadership will be for this season. 

“I want them to pass on the work ethic and things they’ve done that people have not seen,” Gibbons said. “And I want them to pass those things on to the guys coming behind them. They’ve helped build this thing. They started as freshmen, so passing things down to the younger guys will be very important to our legacy at Newton.” 

Newton will be without 4-star player Marquavious Brown as he transferred to Morgan County High School a few weeks ago. However, the Rams welcomed Eastside transfer Timothy Prather and Ben Hodges from Alcovy into the program. 

During his freshman season at Eastside, Prather averaged 8.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and two assists per game. Hodges recorded 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds in each contest for Alcovy a season ago. 

Gibbons is also excited about the steps Ashton Pennamon, Tay Jeffries and Jabez Jenkins will take this year. 

“We’ve got a lot of really good players who don’t play as much, so sometimes people may say, ‘I didn’t know he was that good,’” Gibbons said. “I think they take on a larger role and show things that maybe a lot of people haven’t seen them do besides us. They, with Marcus Whitlock, Stephon and Jakai, will give us a dangerous punch every night.” 

There won’t be any easing into the 2022-23 schedule. Newton gets tested right off the top with a Nov. 17 matchup against Mays High School. Less than a month later, the Rams will travel out to Duncanville, Texas, on Dec. 3 to take on, what MaxPreps considers, the No. 2 team in the nation in the Duncanville Panthers. 

When the Rams return, they’ll face Region 4-AAAAAAA returner Archer at home. Then, they’ll face last year’s FInal Four opponent Norcross on Dec. 10. 

All of the early games on Newton’s schedule are to help prepare it for the long run this season. 

“We’re going to find out where we are and how much we want to fight,” Gibbons said. “I don’t even look at the record until January, We just go to play. We’re playing these teams because we want to go fight. And, if we can get our fight where it needs to be, then we’ll be fine come February.”