TOM DAVIS: Former Valparaiso High School hoop star Brandon Newman doesn’t need a prep school to flourish

Former Valparaiso player Brandon Newman watched a free throw being shot by North Side at the Marion Classic on December 22. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Valparaiso High School boy's basketball coach Barak Coolman speaks to his players during a game earlier in his career. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

INDIANAPOLIS – Valparaiso High School boys basketball coach Barak Coolman spent his Monday afternoon watching the future of IHSAA basketball as over 100 of the top underclassmen throughout the state took part in the annual IBCA-IHSAA Underclassmen Showcase at Ben Davis High School.

His focus was on the future because in light of his recently losing his best returning player, there really is no reason to dwell on the past.

Valparaiso senior-to-be Brandon Newman recently announced that he would be playing his final season of high school basketball at Montverde Academy in Florida as opposed to with the Vikings, who were primed for a magnificent season.

“For me,” Coolman told News-Sentinel.com, “I don’t know if it is as much frustrating as it is disappointing.”

Here is the crux of the situation. There is no definitive right or wrong answer in questioning whether a player should leave his hometown to play 1,103 miles away. A student-athlete certainly can grow in a number of manners by attending a legitimate and challenging academic and athletic environment away from home. However, the growing perception that such a step is NEEDED to maximize one’s ability athletically is a fallacy.

“Brandon is a great, young man,” Coolman said. “It wasn’t an easy decision for him. I care a lot about all of my players, deeply, for me, it is just a concern that what he has been promised comes to fruition.”

Anyone that has seen Newman play can comprehend his potential. The 6-foot-4 guard is the real deal. Newman was a lock to be an Indiana All-Star and at some point in his life, he will be paid money to play basketball. However, he didn’t NEED to leave Valparaiso to achieve that or maximize his opportunities.

“We talked about every aspect of this,” Coolman said. “It was an open conversation for the last two months about the pros and cons and I wasn’t bashful about saying ‘These are the positives and these are the negatives.’ Right now, there are 12 public school basketball players (from Indiana) in the NBA. That doesn’t even include the Yogi Ferrell’s (a Park Tudor High School graduate with the Dallas Mavericks) and all of the guys that went to private high schools.”

Not only can a player succeed professionally by remaining in the IHSAA (ask Brownsburg High alum Gordon Hayward as he counts his $128 million) but a player can flourish AT Valparaiso High School.

Former Viking greats Robbie Hummel and Scott Martin each battled through numerous injuries in college and ultimately played professional basketball. In the case of Hummel, he had one of the greatest careers in Purdue University history and he never needed a prep school to achieve that.

A common argument for young players to follow the prep school path is that it will enhance their ability by providing stronger competition. However, that is disputable.

Of Montverde’s 35 games last season (it won all of them), only six were decided by fewer than 10 points. The average margin of victory for the program was 32 points per game.

In all likelihood, there will be very few times – in game situations – in which Newman will really be challenged to elevate his game. Perhaps that will occur in practices but when Montverde is ahead by 45 points, there simply won’t be a great deal of pressure being felt by anyone.

One college coach told me recently that he likes to see recruits “have to take over a game to win it and when you are on an all-star team, you don’t have that opportunity.”

Last year, Valparaiso had its most successful season in seven years but it wasn’t easy.

Coolman’s team had 10 games (of 26 played) decided by fewer than 10 points and in Newman’s three seasons at the high school, the Vikings have competed in eight games that went into overtime (three in double-overtime).

“The game plans,” Coolman said of his opposition, “are specifically designed to stop him where he is really going to have to use his basketball IQ. But now, it just goes to more of his overall ability and he’s not going to be tested.

“Those are my fears for him and we talked about that.”

Coolman also pointed out that Newman won’t feel the pressure of an opposing gym like he would have at Valparaiso.

The Vikings are scheduled to play on the statewide stage in both the Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle and the Tipoff Classic at Southport next season, in addition to having to face annual challenges against the Lake Central’s and Merrillville’s of ‘the region.’

“Even just playing in an empty gym,” Coolman explained, “where instead of playing front of a couple thousand to 5,000 through the course of his senior year, that prepares you for (college) more than playing in an AAU-type feel, where there are not many people.”

At the end of the day, Newman is going to play well for Montverde, he’ll have an opportunity to mature away from home and he’ll ultimately end up having a nice college career (maybe even a tremendous one). However, it will have come at a cost that wasn’t necessary to pay.

“I wasn’t disappointed,” Valparaiso senior-to-be Nate Aerts told News-Sentinel.com of his teammate’s departure. “We’re all happy for Brandon and we just want the best for him.

“Obviously, you are sad to see your best player go but we want the best for him.”

All of those within the Valparaiso community feel the same and it was capable of delivering that.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

For more on the sport of basketball from Tom Davis, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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