By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
OLNEY — Ja’Quan Newton couldn’t take a step without being stopped. One after another, old faces from the past, attached to new faces with them, came up and hugged the former Neumann-Goretti and University of Miami star.
Newton just dropping 13 points in a losing effort for PF Workout against Khalif Wyatt’s 8EYE team at the 17th annual Danny Rumph Classic Friday night at Tom Gola Arena.
It was a festive time reuniting with some folks he had not seen in a while.
Ja'Quan Newton dribbles up the court. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
As he finally walked off the court, the 26-year-old’s gait was a little rigid, which comes from a lifetime of games on hardwood, though his disposition was as approachable and welcoming as when the 6-foot-3 combo guard was throwing daggers with a smile at everyone in the Philadelphia Catholic League.
Newton had some amazing moments at Miami, too. Each season his numbers gradually went up, as a freshman averaging 4 ppg, to 10.5 as a sophomore, to grabbing the attention of NBA scouts his junior year, pouring in 13.5 a game.
Then the nagging injuries began.
Ankle problems hampered his senior year, though Newton was not about to say anything. He played hurt. It’s the Philly way. One utterance of being injured and his minutes would be zapped, he thought.
Consequently, his game suffered.
“I didn’t say anything again, because I’m a competitor,” Newton said Friday. “I wanted to play so bad. I wanted to play so bad, I didn’t say anything. They were going to sit me out, and it was my senior year. I didn’t want that.”
He averaged 8.8 points a game in a season of starts-and-stops, never really able to show what he was truly capable of doing, and, regrettably, dreams of the NBA were dashed.
Newton, who graduated Miami with a degree in sociology, spent his first season out of college playing in the Polish professional league for Miasto Szkla Krosno in 2018-19.
A promising future, after scoring 1,145 points at Miami from 2014 to 2018, leading the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 as a sophomore, and beating North Carolina in 2018 on a 40-foot buzzer beater, was being redirected.
In 2019, he was in the G League's Greensboro Swarm training camp, and then the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, and Newton, like everyone else, had to put his life’s aspirations on hold.
The last year he spent with The Basketball League’s Albany Patroons.
“I’m still young and going back and forth between here and Miami, working out and thinking about going back to the TBL next year,” Newton said. “I was hurt a lot. I had a great junior year at Miami, and I was not healthy my senior year. I was getting NBA looks. The Clippers were looking at me heavy.
“After Miami, I went to the top league in Poland for one year, and then went with the Swarm in the G League, and last year, with Albany. It’s been one nagging injury after the next.”
Ja'Quan Newton shoots a jump shot. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Newton battled a groin injury this past season for Albany that he said kept him out for eight games. When that healed, he suffered a high ankle sprain to his left ankle that he is still recovering from.
“Injuries take a lot out of you,” he admitted. “Playing in the NBA was a childhood dream, but not anymore. My goal is to play in the high European leagues, which I know I can play there. It’s just a matter of being healthy. Last year, there was a time when I was depressed a lot, because I was so hurt.”
Newton knows his game is better than where it’s been the last few years. Anyone who hugged him Friday night knows too.
“I feel like right now, my game is where I want it to be, but I don’t have anything to show for it as far as where I want to be,” he said. “I’m not playing where I want to play. I’m probably playing at about 85-percent of what I could be. Everyone respects me. I like how I played tonight. I was just happy to move, being able to get up and down the court.
“My ankle still hurts. But I do my exercises and the crazy part of it is I used to get it taped. I just stopped taping it. I taped my own ankles in Albany. I would play pick-up, people look at me, because I tape my ankles before I do that.”
Newton has been working out with Tasheed Carr, the former St. Joe’s Hawk who started his career at Iowa State. He says the goal would be to get a contract in Europe and ride out the rest of his basketball career there, with a future eye aimed towards coaching college basketball.
“I’ll stay in Europe as long as I can, but if an opportunity came to play in the NBA, I would take it, because I know I can play in the NBA,” Newton said. “It would take some steps to get there. I have to prove myself again. That’s okay. I still have a lot of basketball in me. I want to coach when it’s all said and done.
“But this was great. I love Philly. I love Philly basketball and I love the Rumph. It was great to be here. I wanted to win it, but I’ve been hurt the whole year, and finally I’m getting healthy and I’m happy.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.