Courtney Newton would probably chuckle at the notion she should be intimidated by going toe-to-toe with post players who are sometimes 6-foot-5 in the Southeastern Conference.
Even though Newton, a University of South Carolina post player and 2007 Flowery Branch High graduate, is only 5-10, she’s defined her career by fearless play, just as much as her ability to bounce back from serious injury.
After a grand total of five knee procedures since high school — most recently a bone graph last May from her hip into her surgically-repaired right knee — Newton has cemented herself into the Lady Gamecocks starting five as they play in the SEC tournament. Now, the question is what she’ll be able to accomplish when playing with pain is not a factor.
“She’s just so excited to get to put on that uniform and play the game she’s loved all her life,” said her mother, Karen Newton. “I think it’s her character and she has the drive and determination to come back and play.”
The Lady Gamecocks entered the SEC tournament with a No. 5 seed, their highest spot in the tournament since 2002, but were eliminated with a 66-34 loss to Georgia on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.
This season, Newton’s ability to do a little bit of everything on the floor caught the eye of Lady Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley. Though her stats are modest (2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds a game), she is always around the basketball. Of course, her natural tendency as a shooter never left. Against Georgia on Jan. 27, Newton drilled all five of her 3-point attempts and finished with 16 points in a 57-48 win. Then on another night, she didn’t score, but managed to pull down eight rebounds in an overtime loss to LSU.
“Courtney is a player and a person that gives you everything she’s got on every play,” Staley said. “She understands what we want, and she gives second, third and fourth efforts to deliver it. She’s aggressive on defense, will mix it up with anyone, and gives us extra possessions on offense.”
Still playing is amazing for a basketball player who has been through three anterior cruciate ligament surgeries.
The first was on her right knee as a junior at Flowery Branch, then one on her left knee after starting the first four of five games of the freshman year at South Carolina. In addition, she’s had a number of concussions, including one at the tail end of her senior year of high school that kept her off the court.
Through it all, Newton never imagined that she wouldn’t come back at 100 percent. Nor did she consider quitting.
“I never thought about giving up,” Newton said. “I wasn’t going to let an injury take away my joy for playing the game of basketball.”
“She’s finally injury free and doing what she loves,” her mother added.
Since Newton redshirted her freshman season, she still has, and will use her final year of eligibility next season, even though she already holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. According to her mother, Courtney’s working toward a specialists degree in psychology, with plans to complete that by the end of her athletic eligibility.
Newton plays a bit of a hybrid role for the Lady Gamecocks. On defense, she’s in the paint trying to defend shots and box out for rebounds. But on offense, she is more comparable to a guard and has the liberty to shoot when the opportunity arises.
Even though Newton is about a four hour drive from home, she still has her family on hand to watch her play when time permits. Her mother, a teacher at Flowery Branch, drove to Columbia, S.C. for the game against Savannah State on Dec. 5, which was during the school week. The entire family was on hand in Athens on Jan. 2 when South Carolina visited the Lady Bulldogs.
She’s also got her father, Mike Newton, the head football coach at West Hall, to lean on for encouragement.
Despite his coaching background, Courtney said her dad is there more for support instead of giving a critique of her performance.
At the time of the game at Stegeman Coliseum, Courtney was experiencing a bit of disappointment with a lack of playing time. Little did she know, she was about to get plugged into the starting lineup and hasn’t been pulled from it since.
“My parents have given me a lot of encouragement,” Courtney said. “They told me to keep doing the little things to get the coach’s attention.”
After Courtney’s first knee surgery in college, she re-injured her left ACL as a sophomore after starting the first eight games of the season. In between ACL injuries as a freshman and sophomore, she had a knee scope to clean out scar tissue.
Despite all the setbacks, Courtney is attacking the game with the same vigor as when she was scoring 24 points and pulling down eight boards a game as a star high school player at Flowery Branch.
“I’ve really embraced my new role with the team,” Courtney said. “I’m out there doing whatever I can to help our team win.”