Newton to face Rock­dale Sat.

Newton — Rock­dale pits two of the best play­ers in the state

The Covington News - - Front page - Josh Briggs Sports Edi­tor

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.

An­thony Banks/The News

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.

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