Newton to face Rockdale Sat.
Newton — Rockdale pits two of the best players in the state
Newton has a rich basketball tradition. Rockdale has recently thrust itself into the ranks of the state’s best. But for five years, we’ve been left to ponder who would win if the two powerhouses faced each other. We get to find out tomorrow when the Bulldogs visit Newton for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
The game will pit two of the best teams in the state in their respective classifications. Newton enters tomorrow’s game on a roll. The Rams are winners of five straight heading into the game and have climbed back into both the GACA Coaches Poll (No. 6) and Atlanta Journal Constitution high school rankings (10th).
“Although our region games are the most impor- tant thing for getting back to the state playoffs, which is our No.1 priority, our team is looking forward to this match up,” Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “It should be a great test for our team, as Rockdale has more length and athleticism by far.”
The Rams score 54 points per game while its defense is giving up 47. Newton’s strength is fundamentals and execution. They rarely turn the ball over and are a good rebounding team despite not having much overall height.
“I know they’re a good basketball team. Their coach knows what he’s doing and their players are prepared and know what they’re doing,” Rockdale coach Alvin Williams said. “That’s what intrigues and excites me as a coach. I know that individual learned from Ron Bradley and all the other coaches that I know who learned from coach Bradley are intelligent coaches and do a great job.”
Defensively Newton tends to mix it up between zone and man-to-man and will play some fullcourt press. With their lack of size the Rams are better when they play team defense. But the will put pressure on the perimeter in spots.
Rockdale on the other hand likes to play aggressively on defense and score off of turnovers. The Bulldogs are good in transition but as Williams points out, have made a concerted effort to become a more balanced team.
“We try to be two teams in one,” he said. “First of all we play in your face defense. We’re going to get after you defensively. Offensively we run at times. A lot of people think we just run, run, run, but we don’t. We do have the ability to run plays in the half court. We run some sets and we try to be very versatile on offense”
Then there’s the game within the game. It’s not often two high school basketball teams so close in proximity feature two of the best players in the state. But with Newton’s Derrick Henry and Rockdale’s Kevin Ware, that's exactly the case.
Henry is Newton’s senior leader. The 6-foot-3 reigning Region 2-AAAAA Player of the Year leads the team in scoring and is second in assists. He’s averaging 21 points per game — a shade above his 20 point per game career average, and has improved in virtually every aspect of his game after earning First Team All-State honors in 2010.
“Besides being a great player, what sets Derrick apart is his competitive spirit and will to win on the court and in life,” Rasmussen said. “DRoc (Henry) is not just a great player, being all-state for the past two years, and region player of the year last year, but he is also the ultimate student-athlete. DRoc is a winner in life and that attitude is exactly what we desire from all our players at Newton.”
Ware plays a contrasting style to Henry. While Henry is stronger in the halfcourt and a pure scorer, Ware is more comfortable in the open floor. He’s an opportunistic scorer who looks to facilitate. At 6 foot 5, Ware has tremendous length for a point guard. He’s best in transition where he sees the floor extremely well. He looks to pass first but can fill it up
“Ware is extremely athletic and plays above the rim, but Rockdale has numerous guys who are long and athletic,” Rasmussen said. “I’ve read more than one time that coach Williams has said that senior Bernard Thompson is their best, most consistent player, and Clark in the middle is outstanding as only a junior, so we are concerned with their whole team more than just one player.”
Henry and Ware aren’t complete strangers. They faced each other in the junior all-star game last year in Savannah after the season. But Rasmussen isn’t focused on stopping just one player.
“They have several great players on their team, so whether or not DRoc faces up with Ware is the least of my concerns,” Rasmussen said.
While the Ware-Henry matchup is intriguing, the Bulldogs have plenty of depth.
“Honestly Kevin is a great player, but our team is very balanced,” Williams said. “Bernard (Thompson) can score when he needs to. Darion (Clark) — we love to go inside to and DeShaun Sundrhaus has stepped up. I’m impressed.”
Clark is Rockdale's best interior player. At 6 foot 7, Clark is big and strong and will cause problems for Newton's smaller interior defenders. The Rams will
— Rick Rasmussen NHS basketball coach counter with a group effort led by forwards Willie Smith and Shane Henry as well as Curtis Quinn. Smith is Newton's best interior defender and rebounder.
“We had much more experience and a stronger inside presence last season, which certainly factored in our deep playoff run to the Final Four,” Rasmussen said. “Our team is excited about this match-up, however. It will be a test that will help to prepare us for the region tournament and hopefully the state playoffs again. Rockdale is probably the most talented team on our schedule and we’ll have to play extremely well to have a chance to compete with their talent and athleticism.”
The last time the two teams got together, Newton won 64-36 — Bradley’s last year. This will be the first time Rasmussen's faced the Bulldogs. And while he wishes he could turn the clock back a year, look for the Rams to be competitive despite Rockdale's talent level.
“As I said before, we had more strength and athleticism on the front line last season, but this year’s team has continued to find a way to win despite that,” Rasmussen said. “It is a testament to our team’s lack of selfishness and overall commitment to solid team defense. We will have to really compete hard on the defensive glass and play extremely well on of- fense to stay in the game. They are so talented that we know we’ll have to play well in all facets of the game to give ourselves a chance to be successful.”
While the game means nothing in the grand scheme of region play or anything else for that matter, both coaches realize the importance of the game lies in what their teams can get from the experience. And despite Newton’s talent drain from a year ago, Williams is ready for a tough game.
“I know they’ll adjust well to our style,” Williams said. “I know it will be a coaching match as well and that excites me. I’ll welcome all challengers and if I think it could make us better, I’ll play you. And they’re one of those teams. They’re a 5A school so they have more athletes to choose from and right now their program is a little better than ours traditionally.”
Bryan Fazio contributed to this story.
Dual in waiting: Top players Derrick Henry for Newton and Kevin Ware for Rockdale face off for the first time when the Rams host the Bulldogs.