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Rams hoops team ready for test

COVINGTON -- The Newton boys basketball team will see what it's truly made of as it heads to four camps following three weeks of intense practices.

"I'm curious to see if we're as fast as I think we are," Newton head coach Rick Rasmussen said. "Can we be as good as I think we can be and how will we do when the going gets tough? We're interested to find out what we look like against other people. I'm curious to see who steps up in the games. I've got about 15 guys that have a chance to be on our varsity team."

Newton starts its summer tour at Mercer on Saturday before playing a four-day camp starting on Monday at Monroe Area. From there, the team will head to Athens to compete at the University of Georgia camp before closing it out at Georgia College and State University.

"I think the team is very versatile and they really get after it," Rasmussen said. "Even though we're not particularly tall, we're very physical. I have one guy, Donovan Grubb; he's only 6-2 but he's a power guy. He can bang inside and do the dirty work. He's a really physical player. There are a couple guys that are learning the game that are 6-3, 6-4. They're not quite ready to really contribute a lot but they have height. It's just a matter of getting them some experience. Whether or not that height will be in the rotation still remains to be seen."

Over the past three weeks, Rasmussen and his staff have been helping the inexperienced players learn their system as well as help the new players and the experienced players find that team chemistry and get to know their teammates.

The Rams began their summer practice with six players returning from last year's team, including three starters. Hoping to return to their starting positions are D.J. Hill, Taylor Hawkins and Jalen Glover.

"The other three returners are backup point guard, who's a senior, Caylen Gooch," Rasmussen said. "Then there's Brandon Lybrand; he's a senior and a forward/center, and forward Tarik Rogers -- and he'll be a junior. Of those six, we have four seniors and two juniors. We have a good nucleus of six guys who really know what we're doing. Those six guys are hungry and they have great attitudes. We're really happy about those six players."

Rasmussen is also excited about some of the rising freshmen at the camp. Darvin Jones, a guard, was one of the leading scorers at the middle school level last year and is fighting for a starting role on the varsity team.

"He was at Veterans and averaged about 20 points a game," Rasmussen said of Jones. "He reminds me a lot of Derrick Henry. I haven't had a freshman in the rotation since Jamon Hawkins. We're really excited he's here."

With the lack of height that has plagued Newton over the past few seasons, Rasmussen is excited about his future with 6-foot, 3-inch freshman Josh Tukes. Even though he'll be a starter on the freshman team and probably won't see any playing time on the varsity level, Rasmussen is excited about what he will bring to the table by the time he's a senior.

"He's in the 90-percentile according to the doctor in his growth. By the time he's a senior he could be 6-7 or 6-8," Rasmussen said. "I don't know how much varsity playing time he'll get, but what a future he'll have. He's coachable and works hard.

"There are a lot of kids that were in the JV that are ready to play as juniors. I think the team is pretty deep and we're excited. I'm really excited about the attitudes of these guys. Everybody is buying in (to the system), working extremely hard and their attitudes have been great. The guys that are role players are young. They're a hard-working group and are very competitive."