The Newton High men's varsity basketball team doesn’t officially begin its season until next week, but the Rams are ready to welcome fans into their new gym for the 2013-2014 season.
The Rams, led by coach Rick Rasmussen, finished 16-10 last season, falling in the first round of the region tournament. For Rasmussen and the Rams, this season offers Newton a chance to redeem itself after what he called a “down year” last season.
“Some people are happy being .500,” Rasmussen said. “We’re not. We’re not happy unless we get to state and do something.”
Rasmussen begins his ninth season as the Rams’ head coach, and his 16th season overall at Newton, and he said this season could be an interesting one for the Rams.
“Our summer team was pretty good,” Rasmussen said. “We have three returning starters in Taylor Hawkins, D.J. Hill and Jalen Glover. They are pretty good and pretty experienced.
“Our front line will not be very experienced,” he said. “They are going to be our question mark. We’re going to be playing short at those positions, and I expect a tough battle because we will probably have the shortest front line in the region.”
With a lack of height being one of Rasmussen’s main concerns this season, he plans to focus on shot selection to jumpstart the Rams’ offense.
“A lot of people say that, ‘Oh, you’re short, you have to push it and run,’ but if you’re getting killed on the boards against a bigger team because you’re playing too fast, what good does that do you?” Rasmussen said. “I think we’re going to be quick, so we’ll have to pick our spots to add pressure. We’re going to have to play extremely well on offense to overcome some things we can’t help on defense. We’ll run when we can, but we have to have good shot selection. That is going to be the biggest factor for us on offense—taking good shots and taking care of the ball.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams will have to play as a unit, Rasmussen said, to be successful.
“We’re going to have to really guard the basket and make sure we get back in transition,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to gamble. We have to really block out as a team because we can’t leave a 6-foot-2 guy on a 6-foot-9 guy and ask him to block out one-on-one. We really have to communicate well. Our communication on defense is extremely important to our philosophy.”
Rasmussen said that while no vocal leader has surfaced for the Rams, he is expecting one to emerge as the team improves and players continue to battle for starting spots.
“We don’t really have a vocal leader,” Rasmussen said. “In order to be vocal and to be a leader, you have to be on the same page as the coach. We’re working on that. Some of our leaders are quiet guys, and we’re looking to build on that. We’re hoping that over time someone will rise up. Our returning guys lead more by example.
“I’ll be able to tell more when actual games start up, but I’m hoping that all of our returners have improved,” he said. “Guys like Brandon Lybrand and Tarik Rogers didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, but they’ll be called upon to play this year. They didn’t get much experience, last year, but they’ve been in the system, and they’ll be battling for front line positions this year. I think we’ll see improvement from them.”
The Rams open the season on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at home against Alcovy. The rivalry contest will be a “exciting” game for the Rams, Rasmussen said.
“With it being a new school, and the first game ever in the new gym, this game will be exciting,” Rasmussen said. “It’s going to be fun for the entire community. It will have a little special feel to it since it is a region game and a rivalry game.”
The Rams have won two of the last four region titles, and while a championship is on Rasmussen’s mind, he said that there’s more to just winning involved in making a great team.
“With each team, you’re trying to fulfill your players’ potential,” he said. “Coaching isn’t so much an x’s and o’s game, as it is a psychological one. From a year-to-year standpoint, you have to look what you have and try to make your guys the best they can be. That’s what we’re searching for and we’re going to find it out over time.”
Game time against the Tigers is set for 7:30 p.m.