With three of the state’s top seven junior prospects, all top-100 national prospects, Newton’s boys basketball team is ranked No. 1 in Class 7A in most polls and No. 21 nationally according to MaxPreps.
The Rams are 9-1 with victories over traditional Georgia powers Norcross, McEachern, Westlake and Greenforest Christian. Their next test comes this weekend at the Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans.
The three juniors are Stephon Castle, who is committed to UConn; Jakai Newton, committed to Indiana; and Qua Brown, committed to Georgia. Each is described as a combo guard for the next level, but they don’t get in each other’s way on their high school team.
“They’re all close off the court, and that does allow you to play to their talents; all of these guys stay in their own lane,’’ said coach Charlemagne Gibbons. “That’s a good thing for a coach, especially nowadays. To have three guys in the top 100 in the country and play team ball, there are not a lot of teams like that out there.’’
Castle, who scored 27 points Saturday against nationally prominent Prolific Prep of Napa Christian, is the most conspicuous because he’s the leading scorer, and he’s often the one with the ball at point guard, although all three occasionally take on that role. Castle also is the tallest of the three. at 6 feet, 6 inches. Newton and Brown are 6-3.
“Stephon gets the headlines,’’ Gibbons said. “He’s one of the top players in the country, and he’s been showing that every night. He’s got great overall size and a high basketball IQ. The thing he’s shown this year is his ability to score the basketball.’’
Newton is outstanding on both ends of the floor and known for his athleticism.
“He has a high level of explosiveness and finishes with some loud dunks,’’ Gibbons said. “He’s definitely improved his outside shooting. He’s making about 34% from 3. He’s a hard-playing kid who takes challenges on the defensive end.’’
“He’s a jack of all trades,” Gibbons said. “When he started here, he was kind of a four man (forward), and now he spends time at point guard. He has great ball speed, which helps the team be fast in transition. Scoring wise, he only averages about 10 points, but his plus-minus is the second-highest on the team. He’s the second-leading rebounder and right there in assists. He’s a big part of winning.’’
Newton, chasing its first state title since 1964, lost in the round of 16 last season. Gibbons, who won a state title at Morgan County in 2014, believes injuries and lack of depth undermined that Newton team. This season, the big three are well-supported.
Daniel Pounds and Mio Grant play inside. Each is 6-7 and has college suitors. Pounds moved in from Forest Park. Off the bench is Marcus Whitlock, a 6-2 junior guard who has Division I offers. He’s actually the second-leading scorer while making nearly 45 % of his 3-pointers.
Gibbons, in his third season at Newton, said this team is a level above the 2021 team.
“I thought last season we got clipped because we didn’t have much depth,” Gibbons said. “We had five or six guys. This year, we’ve had development from other guys, and Pounds transferred in. So the outlook is good. We’ve got a chance to make a run at a state title because we’ve got nine or 10 that can play.’’