Newton basketball will lose three of its best players this year to college as D.J. Hill, Antonio Smith and Donovan Grubb all signed letters of intent to play at the next level. Hill will play at the University of Mobile while Grubb and Smith grind it out together at West Georgia Tech.
The Rams made the elite eight this past season, and couldn’t have gotten that far if not for the contributions of Hill, Smith and Grubb.
Smith is a bit of a late bloomer. He started playing basketball his sophomore year because he says he was afraid to try out his freshman year. Smith didn’t make the team in his sophomore seasons, so he took it upon himself to work harder.
Smith made the JV team his junior year and worked harder over the summer to make varsity his senior year, where he assumed a starting role on the team. He led the team in blocked shots and dunks. Rams’ head coach Rick Rasmussen says he’s a nice kid and a great rim protector. He thinks Antonio will be one of the best big men in the region at West Georgia Tech right away.
“I’m very proud,” Jackie Smith, Antonio’s mother, said. “Antonio has come a long way as far as school is concerned. He’s always determined to do the best and try to strive for the best. I’m just proud of him.”
“It’s the best day for me,” Antonio said smiling from ear to ear. “Being on varsity for one year and then going to college the next year to play basketball it feels really good. I think this is the best day of my life.”
With Grubb at his side, the two Newton players look to dominate at West Georgia Tech.
“I like Coach O [West Georgia Tech head coach Niki Okolovitch], he’s a nice coach and I think I’ll feel more comfortable going there,” Smith said. “Plus, my other teammate Donovan is going there. I’ll feel more comfortable with him [there].”
Grubb is a two-year varsity player. He was the team’s third leading scorer, he led Newton in rebounds and effort. Grubb made the All-Region team once and Okolovitch thought he was the best player at the West Georgia Tech private workout.
“He’s exceeded my expectation,” Lakishaw Riggins, Grubb’s mother, said. “He’s always been a good child. Anything I tell him to do, he goes beyond what I expected him to do.”
Grubb started playing basketball in middle school despite playing sports since he was five. He’d played mostly football and baseball up until that point, but he chose to continue playing basketball although his family is a baseball family.
Riggins says she knew Grubb was good around his freshman year.
“He was very adamant about going to practice,” Riggins said. “Even when he sat on the bench, he still had perfect attendance. He was determined to show up. When I wanted to give up, he didn’t give up. He pushed me.”
Grubb believes his game will transfer nicely at the next level.
“I chose West Georgia Tech because it’s given me an opportunity to show how good I am and that I can play better places,” Grubb said. “I just have to work. If I keep working I’ll see what I can do from there.”
“It feels good. It feels like anything can happen. I just gotta keep working,” he added.
Although Hill has arguably been Newton’s best player for the last couple of years, he’s been a star since he was nine. He was playing AAU for the Aftershock in Atlanta then where he led the team to back-to-back championships.
“I’m very excited. I knew D.J. would be doing big things. He’s had a basketball in his hands since the age of three so he eats, sleeps and lives basketball,” Lynn Seay, Hill’s mother, said.
Him coming to Newton and having a great coach and a great team and people that pushed him has really made me proud that he’s become the man that he’s becoming.”
Hill says when he visited the University of Mobile he loved the facilities, which was a big part in his decision. He also said that he loves the team and they wer every welcoming to him.
“D.J.’s been a great point guard for us for a long time,” Rasmussen said.
Both Rasmussen and Seay are really proud of Hill’s growth and maturity. Hill is a three-year varsity starter and he made the 6-AAAAAA All-State team this year. He’s also a two-time All-Region player.
Hill said, “I have had great coaches in my life along the way my whole life and I just listened to everything they said and took it in. Working in the gym every day just getting my game better and better. Now I finally got an opportunity to play for college.”