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PREP BASKETBALL: Five things learned from Newton-Grayson
Armani Harris
Armani Harris poured in a double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds during Newton's overtime loss to Grayson Tuesday. The Rams faced Peachtree Ridge in a Saturday afternoon contest. -photo by Anthony Banks

While watching this past Tuesday’s top-10 clash between Region 8-AAAAAAA foes, No. 8 Newton and No. 7 Grayson, I began to hear the voice of the late college football commentator legend, Keith Jackson ringing in my ear. 

“This one’s turned out to be an all-out donnybrook,” I’d often hear Jackson say while providing his stellar commentary to one of the more widely watched college football games of the week. 

By way of context clues, I felt confident I knew somewhat how to define the term, “donnybrook,” but of course my budding, teenage journalistic mind wanted to know for sure. So I looked it up. 

According to Merriam-Webster, a donnybrook means a free-for-all or a brawl. A secondary meaning suggests a public dispute. 

To be sure, no real fights broke out in Tuesday night’s game — a 68-65 overtime win for Grayson. But if you saw the game that I saw, you could probably guess why “donnybrook” seemed to fit. 

It was a physical matchup. Rough-and-tumble. No holds barred. At one point three Rams went to the floor in injury. One of them, junior point guard, Shawn Smith, was more closely examined as precaution after taking a hard fall. 

After it was done, Newton coach, Rick Rasmussen didn’t balk at the physical nature of the game. He didn’t bemoan officiating — although there were some highly questionable calls and no-calls in the game, including a no-call toward the end where a Grayson defender appeared to physically ride Newton guard, Tyrease Brown out of bounds. 

Instead of complaining, Rasmussen did what most competitors do — he accepted it for what it was and expressed pride in the fight of his guys. 

“We should’ve won it in regulation, but we didn’t quite put it away,” Rasmussen said. “We got the tough call on the sideline there that was a call not made that obviously made a huge difference, but on the road, that kind of stuff happens. But I think we showed we can play with anybody. Those are two good teams in a hard-fought region battle, and pretty much what you’d expect, really, and I’m glad we’ll get another shot at them down the road.” 

That shot won’t come until January 15 when Grayson will pay a visit to Covington. Lots of basketball to be played before that comes, and also a lot to know about Newton after Battle of the Rams, Part One. 

Here are a few things:

1. Newton is Ram Tough. As stated, for a while Newton looked like the walking wounded. Armani Harris went down with what looked like an injury to his hip, and had to sit out a while. Smith was checked out after Rasmussen said he may have coughed up a small amount of blood after the hit. But he was back watching practice this week. At one point, Brown was slow getting up after taking a spill. It wasn’t a nasty or dirty game. Just tough and physical — what you’d expect from two ranked, Class AAAAAAA big-boy squads. But although Newton fell short in the extra period, it definitely served notice that this bunch has guts. 

2. Armani Harris is one of Georgia’s best players. At his position this year, there may not be five power forwards in Georgia who can lay the claim of being better than Newton’s 6-foot-7 Harris. The way he’s elevated his game from last season to this has been phenomenal to watch. And he’s not just getting it done in the paint. Harris knocked down several perimeter shots, including a 3-pointer from the elbow that momentarily staved off a late-game Grayson run. He’s grabbing rebounds, blocking shots and has just rounded into a complete player. Most impressive, he seems to like the big stage. That will serve him and the Rams well as the season progresses. 

3. Shawn Smith is the real deal at point guard. Honestly, the way this observation was most evident Tuesday was when he exited the game due to injury. Rasmussen said he felt his guys panicked a bit as Grayson applied full court pressure down the stretch, causing back-to-back turnovers at a couple of moments late in the fourth quarter. I think Smith’s presence on the floor would’ve had a major calming effect, and perhaps helped Newton to sidestep a couple of those crucial turnovers. 

4. The Rams’ bench is rounding out nicely. Both of the main preseason question marks surrounding Newton boys hoops this year had to do with experience. How soon could the new big three of Harris, Brown and Tre Clark get comfortable in their starting and starring roles? And how long would it take guys like Doug Moore, Jaiden Hall and LA Sims to be able to provide necessary support from the bench. Those guys are still finding their way, but Hall and Moore, in particular, had some solid moments. Junior Max Calloway hit a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch after the hard foul on Smith and Sims, though not playing much Tuesday, has shown some flashes. He nailed a 3-ball in last Saturday’s St. Pius game. 

5. The mutual respect is obvious between both Rams squads. Were they jawing at each other Tuesday? Yes. Particularly Harris and Grayson’s Kenyon Jackson. But afterward, those two players gave each other a big “respect hug.” And you can tell how that’s how it is with these two programs. They don’t hate each other, but they like to compete. Shiloh’s off to a fast start as well, so the region championship could likely come down to one of those three. But you’d best believe that January clash between these two Rams squads will be just as intense as the last one, with so much likely to be on the line. 

 Visit later today to find our game report on Newton’s 3:30 p.m. Saturday battle with another solid Class AAAAAAA foe in Peachtree Ridge (7-2, 3-0 in Region 6-AAAAAAA).