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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The rocky, yet rewarding, evolution of KU’s Malik Newman

Kansas guard Malik Newman

Kansas guard Malik Newman

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For most of the world, the idea of Kansas sophomore Malik Newman turning into the kind of player KU coach Bill Self promised he would be eventually became a bit of an abstract concept.

Although Newman started 25 games during the regular season and played big minutes because of the lack of depth on this Kansas roster, there were enough nights when the Mississippi State transfer and former McDonald's All-American no-showed and struggled to score, play defense or even put together three meaningful dribbles in a row.

As a result, the doubt became too deeply rooted in people's minds for them to allow their thoughts about Newman to change at the risk that their high hopes again would be dashed.

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Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham, have a talk during the second half, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 at Sprint Center.

No one knows this better than Newman's father, Horatio Webster. And no one outside of the Kansas basketball program played a bigger role in helping Newman find his way.

A proud father who lives and dies with every good and bad moment his son has on the basketball court, Webster absorbed blows about Newman's struggles from all sides.

During games at Allen Fieldhouse, seated next to oblivious and well-meaning Kansas fans, Webster heard some tough conversations.

“I used to sit in the stands by people who didn't even know I was his dad and, when Marcus Garrett was starting in Malik's spot, they were like, 'Yes! Marcus is starting today. Thank God. We've got to be done with Newman. He just doesn't have it,'” Webster recalled in a conversation with the Journal-World. “That was their opinion. And, of course, I wasn't going to say nothing. But that was hard to hear. I knew what I was seeing out there wasn't my son.”

One problem. At the time, it most definitely was.

Newman's struggles this season have been well documented. And they've had very little to do with his offense.

His biggest issue, which was both obvious to any observer and confirmed by his father Monday night, was that Newman simply had a hard time learning how to play for Self.

It wasn't that he did not like it. Nor that he did not get it. More that he just could not do it. He could not play the way Self demanded he play because so many coaches from his past never held him to the same standard.

“Normally coaches would bend a little bit,” Webster remembered. “'Malik, you can get 30 (points) for me so I'm going to let you cut the corner.' Coach Self didn't give a damn if he could get 100. He'd say, 'You're going to do it how I want you to do it, when I want you to do it.' And I think that was great for Malik. It taught him that nothing's going to be given to you.”

It's not that Newman came to Kansas thinking that would be the case. Far from it, in fact. He never has been afraid of hard work, always wanted to improve as a player and, ever since he was 5 years old, has dreamed of playing in the NBA.

But it was not until he started playing for Self that he realized all of the work that achieving that dream would require.

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Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) tries to knock a ball away from Texas A&M guard JJ Caldwell (4) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Coming to Kansas was probably one of the greatest things to ever happen to him,” Webster said. “Because, if Malik wants to play basketball beyond Kansas, he's got to have those things that Coach Self has instilled in him.”

Today he possesses more of those traits than when he first arrived. And even though many of them still do not come as naturally to him as an open 3-pointer or a pull-up jumper, the progress has been astounding.

After his 30-point outburst in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament two weeks ago, Newman credited his big night to looking in the mirror and finally buying into the things Self was asking him to do.

The fact that it was money time — the postseason — certainly did not hurt anything and even may have provided a significant amount of motivation.

After all, we're talking about a young man that Webster said, above and beyond anything else, has always been a winner.

Before high school back in Jackson, during a television interview about his future, Newman boldly proclaimed that he would lead Callaway High to four consecutive state championships.

“And then he went and did it,” Webster said.

During those same years, while playing with USA Basketball's 16U and 17U programs, Newman played point guard and led Team USA to two gold medals, winning MVP honors each time.

“People gloss over that,” Webster said. “But Malik Newman is a winner, and he's going to do everything in his power to produce, especially in an elimination game where if you lose you go home. He never went home. He was always the last man standing.”

It was that reality that made his slow start at Kansas so tough to take. Webster recalls long nights on the telephone with his son, breaking down the finest details of every game and trying, for the life of him, to figure out a way to help Newman break through.

After each phone call, which lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours, Newman always signed off with the same words.

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Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) encourages his teammates as he waits to check in during the first half, Saturday, March 10, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

“Dad, we're going to be OK,” Newman would say. Or, “Dad, I'll be better tomorrow.”

“And he never blamed anyone for any of it,” Webster boasted. “It was just that, until Malik figured it out for himself, it was going to be a roller-coaster ride.”

Slowly but surely those ah-ha moments came and the ride began to have fewer sudden drops and upside-down adventures.

After spending most of his basketball-playing life worrying first, and sometimes only, about offense, Newman began to understand that there were more important things that needed to be done before checking the stat sheet to see how many points he scored or shots he got.

“Anybody can score,” said Webster, sounding an awful lot like Self in recent weeks. “But go make a play for somebody else. Go in there and get a rebound for your team. Talk on offense. Talk on defense. Get a deflection.”

Said Self of Newman, during a recent radio interview with Nick Bahe: "I think he always thought if you make shots you're playing well. And I've tried to convince our guys that that's a pretty sad way to think. When you don't make shots and somebody says, 'Hey, you were really good today,' that should ring home with you more than anything else.”

When those other aspects of the game became the things Newman started to worry most about, it freed his mind and allowed him to operate better on both ends of the court.

Webster credits Self for refusing to budge and squeezing everything out of Newman that he could.

“Coach was on him pretty hard and I was like, 'If coach could only just coach the hell out of him but still let him play through his mistakes, it could do wonders,' Webster said. “I mean, he would show glimpses of the kid he was in high school and then he would show glimpses of, 'Who the hell is this kid?' He had everybody scratching their heads and I was like, 'Malik, how you play the whole game and get no points?'

“But I think Coach Self had a plan, he wasn't going to let up, he was going to keep his foot on his neck until he got out of Malik what he thought he had in him. And I respect Coach Self for that. Coach is a Hall of Famer. He's one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in college. And you're either going to do it his way or no way. I don't give a damn if you're Kobe Bryant.”

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Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) raises up his arms after a three during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

As soon as Newman's game began to turn around, so did the things that Webster began hearing.

No longer did he have to endure grumbling in the stands from frustrated Kansas fans. Instead, KU fans started high-fiving him and telling him good luck before the next big game.

Even those closest to Newman and his father changed their tune.

“People used to call me saying, 'Coach Self's doing Malik wrong,'” Webster shared. “And I'd say, 'No, he's not. He ain't doing nothing. You all see him on defense. Coach Self shouldn't play him at all.'”

Today, Newman is better in that area and Webster is hearing about that, too.

“When he dives on the floor now I get 100 texts saying, 'Hey, is that Malik diving on the floor,'” said Webster with full-bodied laughter. “I don't think he had one floor burn until he got to Kansas. He didn't know how that hardwood felt. He never got on the floor.”

He does now, whenever he has to. And that understanding and refocused effort has led to some of the best basketball of his life.

“I'm real pleased with him," Self told Bahe. "We'd have no chance to be where we are if he hadn't been playing the way he has been.”

During the past five games — all do-or-die contests — Newman has averaged 22 points per game for the top-seeded Jayhawks while shooting 58 percent from the floor, 59 percent from 3-point range and leading KU into the Sweet 16, where they will face No. 5 seed Clemson at 6:07 p.m. Friday night in Omaha, Nebraska.

As it turned out, all Newman really needed was a little guidance and a brush with rock bottom.

Sure, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who feels too sorry for the young man. After all, when you play basketball at Kansas, you're basically royalty and you live in the lap of luxury, experiencing things that most normal college students can only dream of.

So perspective is important when it comes to remembering Newman's path.

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Kansas sophomore guard Malik Newman fires a shot during pre-game warmups prior to Saturday's game against Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.

But like most normal college kids on campuses across the country, Newman's experiences at Kansas forced him to grow up, dig deeper and become a better version of himself.

And being a part of Kansas basketball inspired him — on his timeline or otherwise — to change the way he approached the game he has loved to play since he could walk.

“Before he came to KU, I think he was just trying to get to the NBA,” Webster said. “He thought he could just show up and it was going to happen. And then reality hit him in the face and he realized you got to lace 'em up harder than that.”


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Comments

Garry Wright 4 months ago

Great article. Glad the light came on! It's in the nick of time. What a problem for the other teams now, guard Svi, Newman will make you pay, guard Newman, Svi will make you pay, work on both of them, Graham will make you pay or now even Vic. Try to cut off the 3 pointers, throw it into Dok or drive in and pass it back out to the open man. I like our chances in the tourney more and more. Don't count on Graham having a bad night next time out.

Danny Hernandez 4 months ago

With Malik playing well in every facet of the game and with Svi's ability to drive into the paint, these two have really changed our team to the point I envision Final Four.

No more just spot up Svi which is great for his future too! If Dok can be close to 100% with no regression, I see us winning Friday. I'm confident

Ashwin Rao 4 months ago

Thank you Malik! Thanks for your hard work to become a complete player. We really need you now! All the best!

Jonathan Allison 4 months ago

Yes! Thanks for sticking in there, even if you were discouraged for not letting frustration take control. People may have been saying that we "need to be done with Newman", but now we all selfishly want you to come back next year.

But first, there's unfinished business.

Andy Tweedy 4 months ago

Love pop's attitude, my daughter played at a pretty high select level in soccer and I can 100% guarantee you most parents don't think like that...you know, correctly and with perspective!

Craig Alexander 4 months ago

Frank Martin and other analysts spoke of parents in sports in Sunday night after the tourney games. A lot of parents should listen because you are exactly right. Too many parents who think they are officials and even undermine the coach as they try to coach from the stands or bad mouth the coach at home. Too many think their kid is a star and aren't helping them get better as a team.

Malik is becoming a bigger threat each game. Let's keep this rocking!

Mike Kendall 4 months ago

I saw the spot where Frank was talking about Parents and sportsmanship. I can relate. I have coached before and have dealt with parents that bring their stupid complaints. Boy, do I know what you're talking about, Frank---all to well.

Marcus Balzer 4 months ago

I'll admit I was hard on Malik and questioned if he belonged. Malik developed a bad reputation - some of it earned and other unfair during his early years but when you read an article like this you see how a great coach coaches his best players the hardest. Fantastic article and a refreshing mindset from Horatio to let Coach Self coach his son. Had to have been the hardest thing in the world to watch his son struggle like that. Instead of lashing out and questioning he let Self do what he does.

If this team can have a locked in Dtae, Malik Svi, and Dok there isn't a team left in this tourney that can beat KU.

Tony Bandle 4 months ago

Well, maybe 'Nova, but they would have to be 100% locked in as well!

Justin Kruse 4 months ago

I was a little skeptical about Malik early in the season. It's been fun watching him develop and fit into the system. He's been a big contributor lately and hopefully that will continue. Sometimes I question his pull up threes in transition...until it goes through the net. Keep attacking!

Jacob Zutterman 4 months ago

I'll be the first one to say, had I actually been able to attend a game in AFH, he might've been talking about me. I still cringe a little when Malik gets the ball. I'm glad he's finding his stroke when we need him most. Wish the best for him throughout his college and NBA career

Jonathan Allison 4 months ago

I posted this on a different article but I think that it's appropriate. TLDR version = Malik appears to be playing loose and with a free mind, hopefully Graham and Svi can take on this mindset as well.---

Newman made one three late in the second half when both Graham and Svi were playing timid and were shy to launch. Newman took and drained a deep contested three that had me really impressed by his confidence.

The game had gotten close and Svi and Graham appeared to be passing up three point attempts that they have been taking all year in favor of trying to create layups and short twos and they looked like they were getting nervous. Then Newman gets the ball dribbles a step to his right, then a step to his left and elevates and drains it with a hand in his face. He's confident and loose.

Hopefully Bill Self really does some things to instill that confidence in all the guys this week. I want to see them come out playing with house money and taking risks like its January. The guys, especially Graham and Svi, may feel differently but I'd like to see them play like a team that's got nothing to lose. Like they're the Cinderella men and they're just gonna come out swinging.

As a shooter, the only way to break free from a shooting slump is to keep shooting. And you tell your shooters all year, "Good shot! Keep shooting! It'll start going in soon!"

Then in March Madness guys get nervous and if they are in a slump then they defer instead of trying to shoot out of it. Graham, Svi, and Malik should all keep shooting it. Don't pass up an open 3 unless you are already salting away the game clock to secure the win, or if there's an open layup or dunk.

Also, I'd like to see Malik and Vick both get back to attacking the defensive glass like they had done earlier in the year, especially with Udoka at less than 100% we need to secure every defensive rebound.

James Donnell 4 months ago

I heard Jon Sunvold, the great Mizzou guard now basketball analyst/announcer, say a few weeks ago that the key for KU in the post-season was Malik Newman. This was before Malik turned it on, so I was a bit surprised by the comment. But Sunvold obviously knows great guard talent. Malik has been the difference lately and gives us a great chance this weekend. And I will say this. It sure feels good to have him at the free throw line late in the game (Devonte too).

Harlan Hobbs 4 months ago

Sunvold has always been one of my favorite analysts, evening if he played at Mizzou. He understands the game immensely and knew that for KU to be highly successful this year, they needed someone like Malik who, along with Devonte, could take over a game.

Now, if Lagerald will continue his recent upward swing, this team is capable of beating anyone. Of course, given some of their inconsistency, they could lose to anyone also.

Great success story, and I will thoroughly enjoy watching Malik in the pros. He and his father clearly have their heads on straight, and his father's role in the process certainly can't be understated.

Keith Cahalen 4 months ago

Matt, seldom comment here (though read this site everyday)... but echoing other comments, a FANTASTIC article ... a "MUST READ" for both KU fans - have faith in HCBS, after all - his success shows the results of his methods ... but also a "MUST READ" for every high school basketball player and especially those interested KU recruits ... and praise for Mr. Horatio Webster - for both being there for Malik and supporting him, but also understanding that HCBS knew what Malik needed to step up to the next level and show the potential that HCBS saw there ... as all parents know, we (or even others) can guide and lead and point in the direction for best results - but is still up to the young person, male or female, to have that "ahha" moment ... and realize for themselves what THEY have to DO to be successful ... and when that moment happens, well, just look at the evolution - as this article highlights - of Malik's success from the difficult journey So grateful to have a great person and coach like Bill Self at KU! Thanks for the great article!

Kevin Whelan 4 months ago

Super article Matt! Great theme and depth. You rock!

Mike Kendall 4 months ago

Great article, Matt. I have been puzzled throughout the season about Malik. Listening to coach Self, he is a good athlete and really good guy. So, I knew Malik would put it all together, at some point. Just hope it gets us to San Antonio. Rock Chalk!

Colby Hebert 4 months ago

Sometimes Malik looks like our best player. Of course committing to playing defense was key, butt I think some of it was just fitting in with a guard heavy team that had a backcourt of 2 seniors and a junior.

Bryce Landon 4 months ago

After reading this article, these are my thoughts:

1) Wow, Horatio Webster has a lot more self-control than I would have if people were talking like that about my kid. And if he was hearing that kind of thing about him in the stands, I wonder if he saw that kind of thing online? I'm as guilty of bad-mouthing Malik as anyone; I would say things like, "I cringe every time the ball is in his hand because he's a blocked shot or turnover waiting to happen." Horatio, if you're reading this, I'm sorry for the things I said about your son.

2) Credit also to Horatio for not being a helicopter dad wanting his son to be the star or get special treatment from coach. The last thing Kansas basketball needs is a LaVar Ball-type dad. The best thing a parent can do is get out of the way and encourage their kids to listen to their coaches.

3) Nick Bahe - wasn't he a walk-on for Kansas in Bill Self's early years here? And now he has a radio show? I live in southeast Iowa now, so I don't get to hear the Nick Bahe Show. What station is he on?

4) And yes, Malik Newman has become a completely different player than what he was in November and December. He single-handedly won the Seton Hall game for us with timely scoring and with a perfect showing at the foul line. And based on the interview he gave after beating Hall, he showed the potential to be a leader for KU after Devonte graduates.

Kurt Eskilson 4 months ago

And Bryce – I mean well here – there was a time when I used to cringe when I saw your posts. To me they felt mean spirited and arrogant. Now I'm enjoying them. You're making well-reasoned points with a humility that encourages honest debate. I'm glad Malik is a Jayhawk, and I'm glad you are too.

Tom Jones 4 months ago

And yet, should KU happen to lose tomorrow or Sunday, he'll be calling for Self's head just like he has the last two years.

Harlan Hobbs 4 months ago

As a regular poster, I second your comment, Kurt. Also, I hope that Bryce is right about Malik returning next year to take a leadership role when Devonte graduates. However, I will be surprised if he doesn't enter the draft.

Lastly, Mr. Cahalen, you need to post more often. Your insight is very well stated.

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