COVINGTON - Newton High School has long been known for its basketball program. Going into this season, the Rams want to continue their winning ways.
In Rick Rasmussen's second year as head coach, Newton went 20-9 last season and qualified for the Class AAAAA state tournament by finishing fourth in the Region 2-AAAAA tournament. The Rams then fell 64-50 to Beach in the first round of state.
Newton has won 20 or more games and has qualified for state in seven of the past nine years, including a Class AAAAA Final Four appearance in 2004-05.
"That's pretty solid. Not a lot of teams in the state can say that," Rasmussen said. "We want to continue our winning tradition. We're proud of our winning tradition. We want to extend our tradition and build on it."
After fielding an experienced team with several returning starters last year, Newton only has one starter returning this year, senior guard Sean Monk. Last season, he averaged 11 points per game with a team high of 3.4 assists per game.
"This will be a good opportunity for him to be a leader," Rasmussen said.
In addition to Monk, some other key players include junior guard Jamon Hawkins and sophomore forward/center Tevin Bradley. Rasmussen stressed that he feels good about pretty much the entire varsity squad including senior forward Montrell Grimes, senior forward Omar Crawley, freshman guard Derrick Henry, senior guard Ruben Hatchett and sophomore center Charles Edwards.
"It's a good group of kids," Rasmussen said. "We're blessed with good attitudes and hopefully that will continue. We're looking forward to getting it started."
Rasmussen said the team's primary strengths are teamwork, fundamentals and a strong work ethic.
"Our strengths are we play well together; we're a hard-working group," he said. "The kids know what to expect, and they know what the expectations are. They seem to be buying in and they want to succeed. They know we have high expectations and they expect to be good. I'm glad they want to win, but we'll have to work hard because we'll be shorter than pretty much everybody in the region. We're fundamental and disciplined, and the kids work well together."
A lack of height will be one of the Rams' main weaknesses.
"We're not particularly tall, but we've prided ourselves on doing the little things. We play well together," Rasmussen said. "We always stress taking care of the ball. We always emphasize fundamentals and defense - it gives you a chance to compete."
Newton won a preseason game last week, beating Monroe Area 65-34. Hawkins led the team with 14 points. Also scoring in double figures were Monk (12), Bradley (11) and Grimes (10).
"This win gets our season off to a good start and also helped us see what areas we need to work on in practice over the break to continue to maximize our potential," Rasmussen said. "We don't play again until (Tuesday) in the home opener versus Jackson High School, so we'll need to stay focused and show maturity in order to have a productive week of practice. Several guys are beginning to emerge as leaders for this team, including Hawkins, Bradley, and Grimes. We are eager to get the season started to see how tough we really are. If we can play hard and compete with heart, I'll think we'll have a chance at another great season."
Anthony Rhoads can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: Newton boys basketball
Head coach: Rick Rasmussen
Last year's record: 20-9 (fourth in Region 2-AAAAA), lost 64-50 to Beach in first round of Class AAAAA State Tournament
Returning starter: Senior G Sean Monk
Other key returning players: Junior G Jamon Hawkins, Sophomore F/C Tevin Bradley.
First game: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday vs. Jackson