When Juwan Newman rode the bench on an undefeated Lake Clifton team that featured three high-major players, he didn’t complain. When the 6-foot-8, 215-pound power forward missed NCAA qualifying standards coming out of high school and prep school, he didn’t stop working to improve his academics. And when the East Baltimore native moved across the country to attend junior colleges in New Mexico and Idaho, he didn’t once think about retreating back home.
“I knew I was never going to give up,” Newman said Sunday. “Some of my friends gave up right in front of my eyes. I was always like, ‘Let’s get in the gym, just work out.’ I never thought I was going to give up. The only way I’m going to go to school is for basketball [because] I can’t pay for school.”
Newman’s perseverance paid off last week when he committed to Central Connecticut State. The College of Southern Idaho standout was also recruited by Boise State, Detroit, Morehead State and Southern Miss, among others.
Newman, who grew up near Johns Hopkins Hospital, spent his first three years of high school at Lake Clifton. During his junior season in 2008-09, Newman was relegated to a supporting role on the 32-0 Lakers team that won the Class 3A state basketball championship. That Lake Clifton team featured Will Barton (Portland Trailblazers, Memphis), Antonio Barton (Memphis) and Cleveland Melvin (DePaul).
“I was growing into my body. I was just like, tall, clumsy. I was always long. I looked like I could hoop. I just had to put it all together,” Newman said. “I rarely played, but I remember this vividly: Coach [Herman] ‘Tree’ [Harried] put me in the semifinal game, put me in for like two minutes, [and I scored] four or five points. It felt good. We won a state championship. [My teammates] were so tough. That made my game better, to be honest. Just playing with [those] type of players every day, [and learning from] Coach Tree, that made me better, too.”
After junior year, Newman decided to transfer to the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers, a D.C.-based charter school with a strong basketball program. He followed that up with a post-grad year at The Phelps School in Malvern, Pa., but when his SAT score came up short of qualifying standards, Newman was resigned to the fact that he would have to go to junior college. He landed at New Mexico Military Institute.
“It was different,” said Newman, who averaged 10.2 points and 7.9 rebounds as a freshman at NMMI. “[We would] wake up at 5:45. Discipline was instilled in me, just waking up early, not sleeping in late. That respect will get you far.”
For his sophomore season, Newman decided to make one last pre-Division I move by heading to the College of Southern of Idaho. Playing for the traditional JUCO power gave Newman the chance to team up with one of his best friends from Baltimore in point guard Kareem Storey – a Utah transfer who recently signed with Morehead State.
Newman made the most of his one year at CSI, averaging 8.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. Throughout the year, Newman stayed in contact with Central Connecticut assistant coach Sean Ryan, who would text the sophomore words of motivation and encouragement. Newman hasn’t visited the New Britain, Conn., campus, but he’s looking forward to joining a Blue Devils roster that will feature junior point guard Malcolm McMillan (John Carroll), freshman guard Ahmaad Wilson (Randallstown) and freshman forward Rashard Todd (Mount Carmel).
“I’m going to step right in and play right away,” Newman said. “[The coaches think] I’m just tough. I’m going to do whatever they need. I’m a big who can score and rebound. So [I’ll do] whatever they ask me to do.”
Newman thinks his biggest advantage going into college is his adaptability. He played supporting roles in high school and his second year of junior college, but also learned how to “be the man” in prep school and in New Mexico.
Regardless of the role he’ll play at Central Connecticut, Newman said he’s looking forward to finally playing Division I basketball.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me,” he said. “I was telling Kareem, when you take the floor for the first game, it’s going to hit you. Kareem Storey, [Montana guard and Baltimore native] Keron DeShields, everyone I hang with was slept on. But we’re getting closer to our dreams.”