COVINGTON, Ga. -- For some millennial generation high school athletes, things like taking pride in the community you were raised in and sticking your chest out about the school name you wear on your jersey on game nights sounds like something from a corny made-for-TV sports movie.
J.D. Notae is a different breed.
The 2016-17 Newton County boys Player of the Year spoke in glowing, reminiscent tones about the things he loved about growing up in Covington and playing for the Newton Rams, as well as the things he’ll miss the most, now that his high school career has come to an end.
“Just all of this around here, I know I’m going to miss,” said Notae with a basketball under one arm – his other arm swirling the gym as he spoke. “Playing here, and the fans and coaches. My teammates which are like my brothers. We spend so much time together. I’ll miss all of this. I grew up here in Covington and been here all my life, and playing here was important to me.”
It’s been important to Newton boys basketball coach Rick Rasmussen also. Rasmussen has been pacing the sidelines as the head man of the Newton program for 12 years. He’s spent 19 years at the school overall, which means he’s seen a lot of players come and go, and he ranks Notae among some of the most impactful he’s coached.
“He’s been a three-year varsity player, and he’s worked extremely hard and has gotten better and better each year,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said the fact that Notae is a homegrown product of his program is special. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard was the freshman team MVP, and perhaps showed his first signs of high school stardom in a pressure-packed moment during his sophomore year.
“When he was a sophomore, he led us to upset Tift County on the road when they were defending state champions,” Rasmussen said. “He had 22 points on the road in that game. I think that game was kind of his coming out party.”
Since then, Notae has been a very well-decorated player these last two seasons. He’s been named to several all-state teams two seasons in a row, was back-to-back region player of the year and this year was named the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association (GACA) 7A North Player of the Year.
Earlier this season, he eclipsed the 1,000 point mark, and his 21 points per game was good enough to lead Region 8-AAAAAAA in scoring.
Rasmussen said he’s also proud of what Notae has been able to accomplish in the classroom, which was key to his being able to sign early to Jacksonville University.
“He’s had a great career here, and I’m really excited about him,” Rasmussen said. “He’s done all the things he’s supposed to do academically which is why he was able to sign when he did. He’s grown and matured as a young man, and we’re all excited to watch him play in college.”
Notae, himself, will attest to the maturity part.
“That’s probably the thing that I’ve improved in the most,” he said. “When I was a freshman, I wasn’t very mature at all. I’ve really grown up and learned how to be more of a man here.”
Notae said that despite coming up short for a state title, he cherished this season as something special primarily because of his teammates. Fellow senior Isaiah Miller and sophomore Ashton Hagans teamed up with Notae to make arguably the most formidable high school “big three” in Georgia. And he can’t talk long about himself without mentioning the impact his teammates had on his game.
“Really, it wouldn’t have mattered which one of us won these awards,” Notae said. “It could’ve been Ashton or Isaiah or Darvin. It wouldn’t have mattered, because we all were out here working and making it happen for each other. We’re all a team and brothers, and couldn’t do anything out on the court without the other.”
Notae is set to report to Jacksonville in June, and he’s excited to see what the new setting and challenges will bring.
“I’m definitely ready for my next chapter,” he said. “It’ll be another hard climb, but I’m ready to go down there and work hard and try to be the best player I can be at the next level.”