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Tough summer schedule strengthens Newton basketball
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The Newton High School basketball team is back from its summer road trip with the confidence needed to face the upcoming 2016 season.

Playing 24 games in 10 days, the Newton Rams ended their summer competition with a 22-2 record.

The Rams played in several basketball camps at schools like Georgia, Georgia Tech and Auburn, and came away with several marquee wins. What stood out the most was the level of competition they faced, which was far greater than in the past.

“Last summer we were 30-2,” said Newton coach Rick Rasmussen. “We played a little more games last year, but I think this year we played even tougher competition. It was probably the hardest summer schedule we’ve ever had.”

At Georgia Tech, on the main court, the Rams beat Greenforest Christian Academy 72-68, which was the No. 1 team in the state of Georgia last year. Newton also beat McEachern, which made it to last year’s Elite 8, by nearly 40 points, starting the game with a 16-0 lead and suffocating defense.

At Georgia, Newton beat Allatoona, whose one loss last season was in the GHSA AAAAA state championship game to Miller Grove. The Rams beat the Buccaneers by 20 points.

The Rams played six games at Auburn, finishing the final weekend 5-1.

“We played the best competition we’ve played the whole summer at Auburn,” Rasmussen said.

In their first game, the Rams played Pebblebrook, another state powerhouse from Georgia. The last two years the Pirates have lost in the 6-AAAAAA state championship game. Newton beat them 78-64, keeping a steady 15 to 20-point lead throughout the game.

“I think was a shock to a lot of people,” Rasmussen said of the win. “They were missing one of their best players, but still they had a lot of other good players and college prospects. That was probably our best shooting game of the summer, and we played right in front of Bruce Pearl, the Auburn head coach and all of their coaches.”

J.D. Notae, Newton’s leading scorer from last season, had 25 points in the game.

“That was really big win for us to get some extra confidence,” Rasmussen said.

Newton’s two losses came against Cedar Shoals and top Alabama team, Canton. In the game against Canton, the Rams lost in overtime after a Notae 3-pointer in the last seconds of regulation tied the game. After beating the 7-AAAAAAA defending state champions from Alabama McGill-Toolen 50-44, the Rams faced last year’s No. 1 overall Alabama team Homewood 47-46 in the final game of the summer.

“We won on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Notae, and that was an incredible game,” Rasmussen said. “We had 2.5 seconds and were down two, and we inbounded the ball to Notae and hit a three at the buzzer. To win that and finish the summer knowing we can win any game, it was a big one for our confidence.”

With a tough schedule mapped out for the upcoming school year, playing these tough games have been beneficial for the Rams.

“The level of competition was good for us so we wouldn’t blow teams out and think we were better than we were,” Rasmussen said. “Next year our schedule is the hardest schedule in Newton history, in my opinion. Next year we play a very high profile schedule and many of our games will be very difficult, so we wanted that to get prepared.”

The top 10 players in the summer games were Notae, Ashton Hagans, Josh Tukes, Colby Rogers, Darvin Jones, Dante Johnson, Armani Harris, Tyrease Brown, Erick Broadnax and Jamal Pollard. Also on the team but unable to travel were Dre Butler and Wendel Lee.