Newton lost star point guard D.J. Hill to college along with a number of other talented seniors, but the team isn’t in a rebuilding state of mind. With the additions of freshmen Ashton Hagans and Colby Rogers plus the emergence of juniors J.D. Notae and Dante Johnson Newton will be a formidable bunch when the season starts.
“It’s a good group of guys,” Rick Rasmussen, head coach, said. “They’ve got good attitudes and with Colby Rogers and Ashton Hagans being freshman I’m really excited about the future. Our returning guys, they know exactly what we’re doing. So it’s a great mix of young talent and returners.”
Through 20-plus games, so far this summer, Newton has emerged with a record of 24-1. They managed to beat last year’s Region 2-AAAAAA champion, Tucker and a number of other talented teams.
The Rams have switched up their style of play from a team that plays slow and methodically in the halfcourt to a team that’s willing to push the pace. Replacing Hill at the point is Hagans, who has a natural ability at the guard position to make the smart pass and the vision to create for his teammates. Hagans has a great handle, he can shoot the three and he’s about 6-foot-1 as a freshman. He’s the real deal.
The real addition, however, to Newton is a player that was already on the roster in Notae. Notae has come into his own ever since he had a playoff outburst of 22 points in a win against Tift County. Notae has been playing out of his mind for the Rams this summer, he put up totals of 23 and 26, twice, in a few games on Thursday and Friday at a camp at Mercer University.
After watching him at Mercer, it seems Notae could be the leading scorer for Newton going forward. He plays hard on both ends and he’s always active. His on the court demeanor is that of a kid who wants it. He wants the ball and he wants to win.
“J.D. is aggressive defensively. He gets steals, he’s strong, he can play inside defensively and he can shoot it and move well. He reads well what’s going on and makes cuts and moves. He’s very versatile,” Rasmussen said.
Notae was cutting and crashing the glass getting putbacks and hitting fadeaways at Mercer, but the problem for Newton is, he’s one of four really good guards on a deep team. There’s Hagans, Notae, Darvin Jones and Jaquan Simms, who are all really good guards that will help Newton space the floor and attack opponents in transition. They can all get hot at any time, but count on Notae to consistently be one of the team’s leading scorers and bank on Hagans racking up a lot of assists.
What you can expect from Jones and Simms, however, is everything in-between. They can score, play defense and Jones is the ideal candidate to run the point when Hagans is on the bench.
“We’re fast. We throw it over the top and we shoot the ball pretty well. We handle most pressures pretty well and we actually contested pretty well. It’s fun to see us play in the open floor and we kind of like the uptempo. [We’re] playing well right now and it’s fun to kind of keep it going,” Rasmussen said.
Another new addition who has shown ability to come off the bench and play big minutes is Johnson. Johnson was junior varsity MVP last year and he’ll be a solid sixth man for Newton when the season begins.
“He’s a slasher. He’s a tough kid,” Rasmussen said. “He’s got a good body and he gives us some more punch as a small forward off the bench. He’s left-handed, he confuses the defense there and he’s one of several guys like Marvin or Kolby or any of these guys who can come off the bench and give us a spark so I feel like we’re very deep.”
The Rams new roster looks like a high school version of the Golden State Warriors. They’ve got four guards who can all handle the ball, run in transition and shoot the three and at center they’ve got a rim protecting big man who can get blocks and alter opponents shots in the paint.
“He’s pretty consistent. He’s smart and he’s usually in the right position. He’s experienced and he makes us a lot better on the backside defensively,” Rasmussen said about Tukes.
Defensively is where the Rams are a lot different. Last year when Newton would force a turnover you’d normally see Hill slow the down pace and get up the court to set up the offense. Now, with the Rams’ full court trap defense, when Newton gets a steal of a rebound you’ll see two guards ready to get the ball with two others, likely Notae or Simms, sprinting back on the other end of the court resulting in a lot of easy transition buckets for Newton.
“We’ve got good hands in the passing lanes and we move our feet pretty well. We’ll take charges and Josh is kind of waiting back there. He’s getting several blocks a game and doing a good job for us,” Rasmussen said.
The Rams have the talent to throw a lot of different looks, and with their speed the team is more adept at forcing turnovers in the passing lane. Sometimes, the Rams get too aggressive and leap for passes out of their reach which allows the offensive player to blow by and give their offense a 5-on-4 opportunity.
Newton has its issues on offense at well. At times during the games they have a tendency to stop moving the ball and everyone is standing around ball-watching, call it Cleveland Cavalier syndrome. For the Rams’ offense to be as potent as Rasmussen wants it to be the team has to move the ball and realize when they need to setup the offense rather than relying on a one-on-one sideshow. It can result in turnovers, over-dribbling and playing isolation ball.
“We’re still trying to figure out when to push it and when to setup the offense. At times we get stuck where we’re not running an offense efficiently enough or quickly enough, but then a lot of times we dribble around and find a layup too,” Rasmussen said. “We’re trying to find when is that not there and we need to run an offense. We’re trying to find a between running and running an offense. I think we’re pretty good at both when we decide what we’re doing.”
Newton didn’t lose its first game until Friday when they played McIntosh, a team that went 29-1 last year and made it to the sweet 16 before losing their star guard to an injury. Still, Rasmussen and the Rams have unwavering confidence in this new group of talent.
“I know we’re gonna be a really good basketball team next year. We’ll be one of the favorites for the region,” Rasmussen added.
It’s just the summer, teams don’t have the time to scout you or adjust during halftime and some teams might not have all of their players just yet, but Newton is owning the summer and maybe they’ll on the fall too.