Armani Harris will admit it. He, nor his Newton boys’ basketball teammates, takes losing very well.
In fact, not only does he acknowledge it, but he seems proud of it. So when Harris and the No. 5 Newton Rams host the top-ranked Class AAAA Henry County Warhawks Friday night, it won’t be a stretch to say that there may be a little revenge factor present.
Henry County defeated Newton last season in a 67-66 overtime thriller in the Rams’ second game of the 2015-16 season. It was a bounce back of sorts for the Warhawks, who lost an exhibition game against Newton by 23 points just two weeks earlier.
This time, Harris said, it’s time for the Rams to bounce back.
“We lost to them last year, so it’s going to be more of a challenge because we want that W back,” Harris said. “The more we lose, the harder we go. We don’t really lose much, but every game we play against someone who’s good, or someone who beats us, we take it seriously.”
There will likely be no overlooking of opponents on either side when this matchup of state championship hopefuls in their respective classifications tips off at Newton at 8:30 p.m.
Newton is coming off a 2015-16 Final Four appearance where it lost to eventual Class AAAAAA champion Westlake in a game that the Rams lead most of the way. With the brunt of last year’s nucleus returning, including standouts like sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans – who’s already got over a dozen Division I suitors tracking his every move – and senior Jacksonville signee J.D. Notae, as well as the addition of Eastside transfer Isaiah Miller, Newton could become a trendy state championship contender as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, Henry County counters with its own stable of Division I caliber talents in its backcourt, namely George Mason signee Javon Greene and New Orleans pledge Damion Rosser.
Newton will benefit from the early return of center Josh Tukes and Dante Johnson who joined the team last week after the Rams’ football season ended.
“We have school spirit, so we were rooting for (the football team) to keep winning, but we’re definitely glad to have Josh and Dante back for us up front,” Harris said.
Even without Tukes and Johnson, the Rams looked impressive in an 82-66 exhibition win over McEachern last week. But Harris knows the competition and stakes take an upward swing as the regular season begins. In fact, Harris is so impressed with what Henry County could potentially bring that he feels like an impressive win could be an early omen of things to come.
“I think if we beat them and play well, it’ll say that we’re already one of the best teams in the state,” he said. “We could probably prove that this season. We can probably be state champs this year if we go hard, keep our mental focus, hold our heads down and work. And even if we lose a game, we just go harder and harder every day.”