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PREP BASKETBALL: Newton's annual Blue and White game provides sneak peak to 2018-19 season
Tre Clark
Newton point guard Tre Clark flushes on a drive during the Rams' annual Blue and White game Wednesday evening. The senior is expected to take on the brunt of the ball handling duties for the Rams this season. -photo by Sydney Chacon

COVINGTON, Ga. – After finishing the summer season with a 28-4 record, the Newton Rams boys’ basketball team kicked off the 2018-19 campaign with the Annual Blue and White Scrimmage Game Wednesday, ahead of next week’s season opener against Jonesboro.

With the team having graduated a large portion of their big contributing players in 2018, the scrimmage served to highlight the talent of the new season, and a good number of students and fans came to get a sneak peak.

 While the team did lose a lot of ‘star power’ from last season, including current Kentucky Wildcats freshman Ashton Hagans, three big names are returning to this year’s starting lineup.

“We’ve got some key pieces that are returning. We actually have three returning starters,” said Newton head coach, Rick Rasmussen. [Those are] senior Armani Harris, our power forward, Tre Clark at point guard and Tyrease Brown, our shooting guard. We’re really going to be relying on them to be the leaders of our team this year. And if they play well, we can do great things.”

This year’s team features six senior players, most of which already have college offers. The team’s goal is to capture a fourth straight region title. That’s especially important for seniors Brown, Harris and Clark. Two of those seniors – Brown and Harris – have been played varsity all four years.

Armani Harris
The increased ability for players like 6-foot-7 senior forward Armani Harris to play above the rim should bode well for a Newton team looking for explosive players after big graduation losses from last year's Class AAAAAAA Final Four squad. -photo by Sydney Chacon

“It’s really all about discipline,” Clark said. “If we can be disciplined and play as a team and really listen to the coach, we can [make it all the way] again.”

Of the six seniors, the team’s underclassmen recognizes the aforementioned “big three” as the team’s top players leaders.

“Right now we’re looking to Tre, Armani and Tyrease,” said sophomore Jalen Germany. “They’re our starting returners, so we’re looking at them as leaders.”

Rasmussen acknowledges some transitional challenges, especially for those learning to become go-to players.

“Practices have been going pretty well,” he said. “We had to work through some growing pains and them getting used to now being the guys we’re relying on, so there’s more pressure on them. Especially now with the graduation of Dre Butler and Ashton Hagans and other guys who were key components of our team,” Rasmussen said.

Complications aside, Rasmussen is excited about this year’s lineup. He’s especially ready to see how his returning players and team leaders will perform.

“There’s an expectation for our returning guys. Especially our big three, Tyrease, Tre and Armani, to step up and play well every night,” Rasmussen said.

Tyrease Brown
Sharpshooter Tyrease Brown drives to the cup during Newton's annual Blue vs. White scrimmage Wednesday evening. -photo by Sydney Chacon

Aside from returning players, the coach is also excited for some of his younger players preparing to enter into the spotlight.

“Some other pieces that have stepped up are: guard Shawn Smith -who was the JV MVP last year and has earned a probable starting position,” he said. “Doug Moore, our junior forward, whom we are looking forward to relying on and senior forward Jamal Pollard.”

Even the veteran players see great potential in some of the new faces.

“[We’ve noticed] Shawn Smith, Doug Moore, and even a couple of sophomores that are going to be good for Newton for the next couple of years,” Clark said. “And we have a freshman, my brother TJ Clark, who’s playing on varsity who is going to be really good for us. 

With the high expectations the team has for its new line up and their season, they are ready for the challenges that they expect to face.

The non-region schedule in particular will pose some stiff early tests, such as next week’s regular season openers Friday against Jonesboro in the Naismith Tip Off Classic and Saturday against Heritage-Conyers in the NewRock Showcase.

These are games that Rasmussen hopes will help prepare his bunch for the grind of the Region 8-AAAAAAA slate.

“We have a really difficult schedule, just as hard as it’s been the last several years,” Rasmussen said. “We’ll [be playing] a lot of ranked teams, so we have to play really well right away. If we don’t play really well, we could take some losses and really struggle early on.”

Rick Rasmussen
Newton head coach Rick Rasmussen tutors Tre Clark on the sidelines in between plays during Wednesday's annual Blue vs. White scrimmage. -photo by Sydney Chacon

But Rasmussen is pushing his team to not be intimidated by the challenge, while, himself embracing more of a teaching role with his more inexperienced roster.

“There’s been an expectation in practice to get prepared,” he said. “We’re putting pressure on these guys to perform and be consistent. There’s been some chewing them out, and there’s been running and some other things that they may not have enjoyed, but they needed to go through to get them to where we needed them to be.”

He says he’s been impressed, though, with the way the guys have handled the pressure.

“I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen, and I’m proud of them,” he said. “And we’re looking forward to having a really challenging season, but also seeing what they can become and how good they really want to be. We think that they’ll be as good as they want to be. So if they want it and work hard and get after it we can be really good again."