Today was the first day of class and the very first college practice for three freshmen basketball players, day one of a journey with a coach in his first year on campus and a team playing together for the first time.
“The start of a new era for Mississippi State basketball,” Malik Newman told reporters after practice.
Newman, a point guard, is the newest star on campus, the All-American and No. 1 point guard in the country who chose to wear the same uniform his father once put on and play for the Bulldogs. He joins four-star guard Quinndary Weatherspoon and highly-coveted forward Aric Holman as the first freshmen on campus, going through their first day together.
“It’s gonna take time to get used to,” Holman said of college life, “but it’s a blessing to be here.”
The three of them join a team of veterans hoping to resurrect a program that has been to the top in the past but has struggled in recent years, and there’s hope both within the program and out that they could do it, and quickly. Newman, whether he’ll admit it or not, is one of the main reasons for that optimism, considered a likely one-and-done player based purely on talent. Add in his considerable maturity and polish for a young man who just graduated high school (he greeted each reporter with a handshake and a smile before beginning his interview), and it’s easy to understand why Howland A) wanted Newman so badly and B) expects him to do great things, sooner rather than later. I.J. Ready, MSU’s junior and returning-starter point guard, instead of viewing the supposed freshman phenom with disdain or even envy, has taken Newman under his care, teaching him and helping him with one goal in mind: winning games for Mississippi State.
“Malik is an outstanding talent. We basically bonded as soon as we saw each other,” Ready said. “We come out here every day and compete against each other to make each other better and make the team better. Malik is fascinating, but he’s young and there’s a lot to learn. I just want to be there to help him and teach him.”
Newman, like Holman and Weatherspoon, understands his place, too. All three conceded that after only one hour of practice with Howland and his staff, they realized how little they really knew, how far they had to go and how different college was going to be from high school. They may have big names or piles of newspaper clippings, but they have no experience and haven’t even had a chance to earn respect from older teammates. The good news for them, however, is that the veterans on the club, seniors like Gavin Ware, Fred Thomas and Craig Sword, have welcomed their new teammates like brothers.
“When I first walked in the locker room Tuesday,” Holman said, “none of them acted shady. It was all love. I really appreciated that.”
That being said, all of them – freshmen and veterans alike – are competitive. They want to play, they want to start and they want to be the best.
“Just because I’m coming in with a big name, doesn’t mean that [I.J.] is gonna lay down for me,” Newman said, “and just because he’s been here doesn’t mean that I’m gonna lay down for him. For him to push me and for me to push him, I think that can just help the team get better.”
And that will be the ultimate goal. For Newman, who wants to learn. For Ready, who wants to improve. For Howland, who is spending his time teaching, breaking down his players to build them back up again, forcing them to improve at the little things that separate the good from the great. And for all of them, they just want to win.
“I’m ready to work and get Mississippi State basketball on the map,” Weatherspoon said.”