Last week it was the junior varsity players practicing out on Newton High School’s basketball court, but this week varsity players own the court.
About 60 players, some junior varsity already, others trying to make the team in the fall and a few rising eighth graders who plan on attending Newton in the fall of 2015 participated in summer basketball camp. Two rising sophomores, JJ Holloman and Wendell Lee, won a slam dunk contest and a three point contest respectively.
However, when the varsity team touched the floor beginning Monday morning, it was all about getting better.
“Now we’ve turned really to team practices. We used last week to introduce our fundamentals and drills to brand new kids and as a reiteration for our returning kids. Now we’re on to varsity team practices,” head coach Rick Rasmussen said. “We’ve got a great summer schedule, so we’re practicing now to get ready for that. We go to Furman University where our former point guard Stephen Croon plays.”
Darvin Jones is the only returning starter from last year’s region runner-up team when he was a freshman. He sat and watched his teammates’ practice Tuesday as he rested up his injured ankle. Although he couldn’t practice, he was seen sitting in a chair dribbling two balls to enhance his ball handling ability.
“Every day is a new day. We gotta work on different things. We’re gonna be a pretty small team this year, so we gotta work hard in practice to get better,” Jones said. When asked what he wanted to improve on, Jones simply said “defense.”
“This year we’re going to be pretty small so defense is going to be our main concern this year to win games.”
Jones will be a sophomore the 2014-2015 season. He won the most-improved award at the team banquet. Rasmussen mentioned that there were a lot of young guys that he likes and raved about his young sophomore class of 2017.
“We’ve got a really good 2017 class in particular,” Rasmussen said. “This summer is really important for us because we get a really good chance to see who is going to be trying out in the fall and we really get an idea of who our team’s going to be in the fall.”
“Most of our guys that will make our team next year have committed to June. So it’s a really important time for us to go play games.”
The summer games start this weekend for Newton, as the team will travel to Furman University for its team camps on Friday. Rasmussen added that he could have let his team play games earlier in the summer but that’s not how he operates.
“We take it seriously. We don’t just go play pickup games,” Rasmussen said.
“I want to play to be successful, so I want to get my team ready first. So we’re building our team right now. We’re going over our sets and plays, we’re building chemistry and then we go play.”
Rasmussen said that this is the time to get a good head start for next fall.
“To get used to playing together and building new team chemistry,” Rasmussen said about mixing young talent with veteran players.
“I really want them to be [in] a positive atmosphere that encourages each other to do the right thing, that police themselves from the top down. Our seniors mentoring to the younger kids in all different things. We really believe that fundamentals and discipline are the keys to our success.”
During their summer, the Rams will visit UGA, Clayton State and Mercer University for team camps and games.