Playing as well as anybody in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas sophomore Malik Newman said there was one moment when he felt like he arrived in a big way.
No, it wasn’t the 32-point performance against Duke. It wasn’t any of the big shots he hit earlier in the tournament.
Newman’s welcome-to-the-big-time moment was a message from the official Twitter account of Little Debbie, the manufacturer of some of his favorite snacks. The account messaged him on March 16 saying it was “very sad to hear about your Donut Stick plight,” referring to a story he told the media in the preseason about roommates eating his beloved donut sticks.
“I went to the page and saw the blue check,” said Newman, referring to the checkmark which verifies it’s an official account. “I’m like, ‘Yo, this is Little Debbie for real?’ So I had to tweet her back, ‘I love you guys. We need to sit down and talk and make a Malik Newman donut stick or something.’ I was excited. I felt like I had made it.”
Sharing his latest story about Little Debbie snacks on Tuesday, Newman was ecstatic when he saw the official account followed him on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
When the Little Debbie Twitter account first started interacting with him, he thought it was a prank from one of his teammates.
“For real, all jokes aside, I thought it was fake at first,” Newman said. “I was like people are playing.”
Lighthearted in tone but serious in the message, Newman is proud of his social media accounts. He just wishes he had the blue checkmark to verify his Twitter and Instagram accounts like some of his teammates.
Featuring more than 53,000 followers on Twitter, Newman was confused why Mitch Lighfoot’s Twitter (about 11,000 followers) was verified and his was not.
“My Twitter, Mitch’s Twitter, it’s like, it’s not that debatable,” Newman said. “I think my Twitter is by far the best Twitter on the team.”
The person running the Little Debbie social media account messaged him on Wednesday, “Good luck on the court this weekend! Oh, and hope you get verified soon by Twitter. Not sure what’s taking them so long.”
For Newman, it’s just another person who believes in his social media accounts.
“A lot of people think that I should be verified,” Newman said Tuesday. “I think I should be verified. So Twitter, we need to make that happen. Instagram, too, because coach (Jerrance) Howard is verified on Instagram and I’ve got more followers than coach Howard. We need to sit down and have a meeting.”
Malik Newman can’t suit up for the Kansas basketball team this season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t made an impact elsewhere.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Newman, who is sitting out the season because of NCAA transfer rules, has played well on the scout team in practices. That's given confidence to his teammates and coaches that he will be ready for a big role next year.
In his one season at Mississippi State, Newman averaged 11.3 points per game. He was a 38 percent shooter from the 3-point line and made free throws at a 69 percent clip.
“He’s a terrific talent,” KU coach Bill Self said on his Hawk Talk radio show earlier this week. “He's had a really good year. I think that the transfer year has helped him from a strength standpoint and certainly from a physical standpoint. I do believe that it’d be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup next year, regardless of who’s back.”
The Jayhawks could feature a vastly differently lineup next season if juniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk decide to enter the NBA draft. National player of the year Frank Mason III will graduate.
Along with Newman in the backcourt, the Jayhawks will add Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe — he’s eligible to play after the end of the first semester — and incoming freshman guard Marcus Garrett.
Newman will likely make his unofficial KU debut when the Jayhawks travel to Italy in the summer on their latest trip abroad.
Before then, Self would like to add a point guard who can complement Newman’s strengths. Newman only averaged 2.2 assists per game at Mississippi State.
“I don’t really see Malik as a point guard,” Self said. “I see him as a combo guard that can maybe play a little bit of point. But he needs to have a free mind to go score. That’s what he does. That’s naturally what he does. We’ve got to, hopefully, sign another guard so we can even take more advantage of that.”
Throughout his season of sitting out, Newman — the eighth-ranked player in the Class of 2015 by Rivals — has helped the Jayhawks in practice on the “Red” team, which serves as the scout team for the starters.
Self noted that the “Red” team, which features reserves Mitch Lightfoot, Dwight Coleby, the team’s walk-ons and Cunliffe, have lost big in some scrimmage settings but are capable of some surprise wins.
"I think if Malik was eligible now," Self said, "he'd be playing a ton.... There’s no question that Malik’s had a good year."