Next Cats: Fast friends Newman, Stone could form blockbuster 'package deal'

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 17, 2014 

SUWANEE, Ga. — Diamond Stone was waiting patiently for the game preceding his to finish Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-10 center from Milwaukee sat alone in the Georgia bleachers, headphones on to drown out the sound of four courts of simultaneous basketball at the Under Armour national showcase. His eyes were trained on one of those games when someone snuck up from behind and playfully tapped him on the face.

It was Malik Newman, who walked away laughing while Stone sat there with a grimace.

Newman and Stone are two of the best high school basketball players in the country. They're consensus top-five recruits in the class of 2015, and they both have scholarship offers from Kentucky.

They're also best friends who have spoken often and openly about attending the same school.

The notion of the "package deal" gained a little more credibility with the class of 2014, which included Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, two players who said throughout the recruiting process that they would be college teammates and then made good on the promise by signing with Duke.

Most package deals don't pan out, but when two players as talented as Stone and Newman start talking about it, the buzz won't die until the decisions are made.

The two met last summer when playing together with the Team USA under-16 squad that won a FIBA gold medal in Uruguay. On the court, they were the team's two leading scorers. Off the court, they were roommates who instantly formed a close bond.

"We started laughing at the same things. Talking about the same things. Saying the same things at the same time," Stone said.

Newman — a 6-4 guard from Mississippi — said Stone was "fun to be around" off the court and a player who he "clicked" with immediately.

The pair have stayed in constant contact ever since, despite the 800-plus miles that divide them.

"Me and Diamond talk every day," Newman said. "Talk, text, FaceTime, however we can communicate with each other."

One thing they have in common — aside from their immense basketball skill — is their tight-lipped approach to the recruiting process.

Newman will readily acknowledge the schools that are recruiting him, but he admits that he doesn't watch much college basketball. He hasn't taken any real recruiting visits and is careful not to name any leaders.

For much of the past year, Kentucky has been assumed to be his favorite among recruiting observers. Recently, those same people starting shifting their predictions away from the Wildcats in favor of other suitors.

Newman seemed perplexed by both the original assumption and the latest guesses.

"I don't know where they're getting it from, because I hardly talk about recruiting," he said.

Stone has been even more guarded.

His father said that the family has made a conscious effort to keep him from talking much to coaches and reporters about his recruitment.

"We wanted him to be a kid," Bob Stone said.

One example of the secrecy: It was reported for the first time last week that Stone had a scholarship offer from Kentucky. Both father and son said Wednesday night that the offer has been on the table for more than a year and that John Calipari and assistant coach Kenny Payne have been to Milwaukee multiple times to see Stone.

"It was funny to me that people thought I just got it," Stone said of the offer. "Coach Cal said it was funny."

Stone's talent is no joke.

Scout.com ranks him as the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2015.

He's now at 245 pounds — dropping about 20 over the past year — and is arguably the most offensively gifted big man in the country.

"He can really score, and he can do it in a variety of ways," said Scout.com's Evan Daniels. "He has tremendous size. He's gotten in shape. He's starting to block shots more often. And he can just score.

He can do it facing the rim from 21 feet, mid-range jump shots and with an array of moves on the block."

Scout.com ranks Newman — one of the best perimeter scorers in the class — as the No. 6 overall prospect.

"His ability to score and his ability to create space for shot opportunities is what sets him apart," Daniels aid. "He really adjusts shots well at the rim and is a very good scorer at the basket. ... He can heat up in a hurry."

Though their recruitments are now intertwined in the minds of those who follow them, the duo's decisions probably will come months apart.

Stone said Wednesday night that he plans to announce his college choice during ESPN's signing day special on Nov. 12. His father said he would take all five official visits before that date.

Newman plans to wait until the spring, though he would like to narrow his list to five or six schools by the end of the summer.

Kentucky, Kansas and UConn — the first three schools Newman named Wednesday — are recruiting both players and are widely viewed to be the leading destinations if the package deal comes to fruition.

Newman said Wednesday that attending the same school is the plan "as of right now," while noting that the two players "still have to look out for ourselves" during the recruiting process.

Stone put the chances of a package deal at "50-50."

"The package deal is up in the air," he said. "We're still working that out — seeing if this is really what we want to do. I'm still open with every school. Right now, we're just waiting."

The fan bases of several schools will wait along with them, knowing that the payoff could be worth it.

"In my eyes, I think (we'd) win the NCAA championship," Newman said.

"So, hopefully it plays out."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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