Next Cats: Many chapters to come in recruitment of top UK target Newman

broberts@herald-leader.comAugust 27, 2014 

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When David Sanders was hired last year to coach the basketball program at Callaway High School in Jackson, Miss., a parent of one of his new players had a question for him.

"You ready for this?" asked Horatio Webster, the father of five-star shooting guard Malik Newman.

Sanders — who played at Ole Miss and had already been coaching in the Mississippi high school ranks — was a bit confused. "I was like, 'Ready for what? It's just basketball.'"

[Ben Roberts' NextCats: All about UK recruiting]

It didn't take long for Sanders to understand what he was talking about.

"It's a lot more than basketball," he said with a laugh. "There's a lot that comes with being around Malik. He wasn't talking about the coaching. He was talking about the whole spectacle."

The basketball took care of itself, with Newman leading Callaway to a third consecutive state championship. The "spectacle" — as Sanders calls it — is just beginning.

As he enters his senior year, Newman is widely considered to be the No. 1 guard in all of high school basketball. That acclaim comes with attention from the most decorated college coaches in the country. And that attention is met with a figurative shrug of the shoulders from Newman.

The 6-foot-4 guard is amiable in interviews about his recruitment. He spoke at length with the Herald-Leader and other media outlets last month, answering every question about the schools and coaches recruiting him but offering no hints on where he might be leaning.

"I get that question from a lot of coaches, asking me what I think he's going to do," Sanders said. "And I think that's because they can't get a bead on him. They don't know one way or another either. I just tell them, 'I don't know, Coach. The kid doesn't let on anything.'

"And I don't think that's because he's trying to hide it. I think that's because he really doesn't know."

Sanders said Newman plans to release a narrowed list of schools "pretty soon." He promised that it would include "the cream of the crop" of college basketball programs, as well as Mississippi State, where Webster was a standout player in the late '90s.

Kentucky, Kansas and UConn are among the programs considered to be high on his list, though Newman has never publicly named any favorites.

Coaches from those schools and others will converge on Jackson in early September for the next round of in-home visits with Newman, who has yet to take any serious recruiting visits to college campuses.

"Just knowing Malik, from now until the time the season is over, they're really just going to be wasting their time," Sanders said. "Because he's not going to think about recruiting. He'll listen to what they have to say and enjoy his visits, but as far as making his decision — he is not thinking about it. That's the farthest thing from his mind right now."

Newman has already said that he's going to wait until after the season to announce his college decision. The attention will continue over the next few months, but don't expect the answer to the question of "What will Malik do?" to get any more clear.

Sanders described a recruitment that sounded a lot like that of Andrew Wiggins, the star player from the class of 2013 who waited more than a month after the Final Four to make his decision as fans from some of the biggest basketball programs in the country hung on every word.

The Callaway coach said there's no point in trying to read between the lines of this recruitment. Newman admittedly doesn't watch much college basketball, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

"All he does is work out," Sanders said. "He'll leave practice and go to the gym. He'll leave the gym and go work with his personal trainer. ... When he does watch it, it's probably going to be the Final Four or something like that."

He watched last season's Final Four and came away impressed with the guard play at UConn, a school that wasn't even seriously recruiting him before it won the national title.

Huskies Coach Kevin Ollie got wind that Newman liked his program and was quick to act. By the end of the month, Ollie had traveled to Jackson for an in-home visit and UConn was seen as a serious contender on Newman's list.

"It might just be the team that's hottest at that time," Sanders said.

Whoever it is that lands Newman will have to wait a while to do it. The focus going forward will be on a fourth straight state championship. Any questions about what comes next probably aren't worth asking until that's decided.

"He's not going to talk to me about it at all," Sanders said. "And that's pretty much how I like it. Because I don't want to be in the middle of it.

"It's going to be crazy. That's one thing I know about recruiting."

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

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