Flowery Branch High graduate Courtney Newton has probably changed more things in her four short months adjusting to college life than a typical freshman experiences for an entire year.
Not only does she have to juggle the rigors of college life at the University of South Carolina and the newfound experience of freedom, but her basketball career has taken on a whole new outlook. After playing her entire high school career as a shooting guard, the 5-foot-10 freshman for the Lady Gamecocks has made the move to playing the point position after fellow freshman and former AAU teammate Ashlie Billingslea suffered a knee injury in the preseason.
It’s a role that has been challenging but one that Newton embraces for a young South Carolina (4-2) squad.
"It’s been a different transition," Newton said. "It’s a totally different game at the point position. I’ve never in my life played the point. I think I’m getting more comfortable with each game. But if that’s the role I have to play to make our team better then I’m more than happy to do it."
South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said Newton is like a sponge and wants to absorb any and everything possible.
"She’s learning the role," Walvius said. "She is in our office all the time. She wants to see as much film that she can watch. She wants to understand everything that is going on. Whenever she comes out of the game, she wants to sit right next to the coaching staff so she can hear what is going on and hear the communication."
Add to the fact that injuries have played a factor and it’s amazing that Newton has been able to keep everything on an even keel. She suffered through multiple stress factures during preseason camp so Walvius and the Gamecocks training staff had to keep a watchful eye on her. Making sure Newton stayed healthy and got in enough work to learn a totally new position was a balancing act that all parties had to work on.
And during Friday’s 91-58 loss to Illinois, Newton suffered a knee injury that will be re-evaluated on Monday back in Columbia. She missed Sunday’s 82-66 victory over Florida Atlantic.
"Her work ethic has been nothing short of fantastic," Walvius said. "She’s overcome the injuries and has the mentality of doing whatever that will help the team in the long run. Typically that isn’t the mentality of a freshman."
Before the injury, Newton had started four of the first five games and averaged 4.8 points and three assists a game while only having 11 turnovers in those five contests. Newton came in known as a player that could shoot the basketball from anywhere on the floor and knowing when to shoot and when to set up her teammates has been a work in progress. In fact, she said the coaching staff has urged her to look for her shot a little more.
"At first I didn’t want to shoot at all," she joked. "I just tried to run the plays and not shoot ever. The coaches kept telling me that I could shoot whenever I had an open shot. The biggest adjustment has been trying to put that altogether and just play basketball and not think about so many things."
Newton said her family’s athletic background has played a role in her being able to make the move to such a demanding position. Her dad, Michael Newton, is the head football coach at West Hall High School and her mom, Karen, was an assistant coach on the Flowery Branch team until this season.
Both played sports on the collegiate level. Michael Newton played football at Austin Peay and Karen Newton played basketball at Tennessee Wesleyan College. Her brother Colby Newton currently plays basketball at North Georgia College.
There were many times her parents wouldn’t let the two siblings play against each other because the battles would turn physical and lead to fights.
She said that upbringing and toughness is the only way she knows how to attack any situation.
"My dad being a football coach has really helped me make the transition," Newton said. "Growing up and watching him coach and I think I am a lot like him. I have his same mentality. He taught me that you had to be tough and mentally strong. I’ve had to work on that more in college and he’s really helped me out with that."