COVINGTON - You gotta believe.
That was one of the lessons the Newton boys basketball team learned in its 25-game summer practice schedule.
The Rams finished the four-week session with a record of 21-4 against some impressive opponents. They came out of it with a new attitude.
"This just reaffirms what we believe already," Newton Coach Rick Rasmussen said. "What we believe is that we can be a good basketball team. Our kids saw what they have to do to compete. They have to play together, they have to share the ball and they need to really talk on defense. When they don't talk on defense, we're not as good. We have to take care of the ball, handle the other team's pressure and we have to shoot the ball well."
Some of the top-notch schools the Rams played against during their camps at Savannah State University and Georgia College & State University included Windsor Forest, Dacula, Beach, Houston County, Greenbrier and Statesboro.
"One of the things that was unique about this summer was the quality of talent we played. They were predominately AAAA and AAAAA teams," Rasmussen said.
The Rams were also the unofficial champions at both camps and left Savannah with a 7-1 record. All of their work payed off in the last game of the GCSU camp with a 69-67 win over Brookwood.
"They were 9-0 at the time (at camp)," Rasmussen said. "We played our best game all summer. We played to our full potential and shot 57 percent. We had zero turnovers. Jamon (Hawkins) had 21 (points) and Tee (Farley) had 20. The kids got up for it because it was another camp championship-type game."
The Rams practiced from the week after school let out until the last weekend of June, which included six-hour practices and two trips to Ola High School, where they played and beat Ola, Henry County, Stockbridge and Dutchtown.
Besides Hawkins and Farley, who are Newton's only returning senior starters, several other young players made their summer count.
Charles Edwards, a 6-foot-5 rising junior, proved that he was big enough to handle working the paint and the glass. He had several games in double-digit rebounding efforts, including 13 against Brookwood.
"Demetrius McCray (senior) was our sixth man last year. Now this year he has a chance to start," Rasmussen said. "We have a junior, Jared Mann, who contributed a lot. Sophomore Derrick Henry is a real bright spot. He attacks the basket and gets to the foul line. I learned that Derrick is ready to play in our region, even though he's only a sophomore."
Of the progress made over the summer, the one part of Newton's game that stood above the rest was its defensive play. The other aspect of Newton's game that made an impression on the coach was the chemistry it developed in a short amount of time.
"Our defense is better then we were last year," Rasmussen said. "We're not tall, but we still have a little bit more size then we did. I think we came together really well. We don't have any attitude problems and the kids like each other; that's extremely important. We learned that when we shoot the ball well and take care of the ball well, those are always goals. We're a pretty good team. We're unselfish and make the extra pass."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.