On March 21, 2014 Neumann-Goretti High School hit the floor for the Pennsylvania State Championship Basketball game. Up to this point, the Philadelphia powerhouse had a great year and breezed through the playoffs. But on a Friday night in spring, fans experienced something unforgettable.
The Saints were led by ESPN 100 recruit Ja’Quan Newton, who had dominated throughout his high school career, and was playing in the state championship game again. Fans prepared for a show, and a day after the tragic loss of his mother to cancer, Newton delivered to the tune of 33 points and 8 rebounds. The performance was awe-inspiring to those in attendance, and one of his teammates described him as "probably the best player to ever play for us."
The night clearly demonstrated that Newton was special, and in his first two years at The University of Miami Newton has not disappointed. The 6-2 guard averaged 10 points during his sophomore season, and was referred to as "the best sixth man in the country" by broadcasting legend Dick Vitale. Newton has stepped up in a lot of big moments throughout his Hurricanes career thus far, but now, in the aftermath of a sweet 16 run, Ja’Quan will face his greatest challenge yet; stepping up as a leader.
Newton experienced a learning curve throughout his freshman season, but a stellar sophomore season has those around the program confident in him moving forward.
"I knew the talent was there, but I didn’t know when it was going to show," Point guard Angel Rodriguez said to Comcast Sports Net midway through the season. The graduating senior went on to say that "for him it just took a year."
And for the 20 year old sophomore, the time to learn under a veteran’s shadow is over. Entering his junior year, Newton is expected to be the starting point guard and should be playing with a young backcourt. Anthony Lawrence Jr. is set to be a sophomore, and ESPN top 40 guard Bruce Brown will enter campus as a freshman this fall. That lineup is a big change from that of 2015-16, which saw two seniors start at point guard and shooting guard.
"We don’t have a prototypical point guard," Head Coach Jim Laranaga said in an interview earlier this year. "Even Ja’Quan is not just a pure point guard. He is a scorer as well."
Newton may not be the prototypical point guard Miami has had in a Shane Larkin and Angel Rodriguez, but the 185 pound guard will have to be a versatile player for the ‘Canes in 2016-17.
Newton has been a versatile player over the course of his career, and has drilled "daggers" in close games. One of the biggest shots of Newton’s career came in a road game against Georgia Tech. With less than two minutes remaining Newton hung a three over his defender to make it a six point game. After that, the Yellow Jackets never got closer than 4 points to Miami. Newton led the way in that game along with guard Sheldon McClellan, but McClellan will not be in Coral Gables any longer. Ja’Quan will still have the help of veterans such as Davon Reed, but moving forward his potential is vital to Miami’s future.
This season Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield showed us just how important a superstar can be to a team. While Hield is expected to be a first round pick this summer, his college resume proves the point that with a star guard anything is possible. Moving forward Newton will have to continue his development as that star guard for Miami. Newton isn’t the whole team, but his leadership over the next two years may mean the difference between a trip to the Sweet 16 and national championship contention.