College spotlight: St. Scholastica's Newman born to play basketball
Brandon Newman remembers tagging along with his father to the Barnum gym, where he would run around with his light-up shoes.
The varsity basketball players looked like giants, but before practice, they would often get the squirt involved.
"Sometimes they would throw the ball to me, or lift me up by the hoop and see if I could shoot it," Newman said. "But when practice started, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch."
That didn't last long.
Newman, the youngest of a well-known Northland basketball family, has had an immediate impact in two years at St. Scholastica after starring in high school for the Bombers.
This season, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard leads the Saints in scoring (16.3 points per game) and steals (1.1) and is second in rebounding (4.4) and assists (2.6).
"Brandon plays both ends of the court, and he plays hard," St. Scholastica coach David Staniger said. "He is incredibly smart. He knows exactly what he's supposed to do, and he is getting more vocal on the defensive end, which is great to see. He's coming out of his shell."
Staniger said Newman displays the characteristics of a coach's' son. Brandon's father, Rich, is Barnum's boys basketball coach, while his mother, Corina, is the Bombers' volleyball coach.
"When your best player is also your hardest worker, it's pretty easy to coach," Staniger said.
Brandon Newman grew up playing basketball on a cement slab near the barn on the family's dairy farm 5 miles outside of Barnum. It was usually Brandon and his sister, Katrina, against twin siblings Justin and Jessica. Occasionally, it was boys vs. girls.
It wasn't long before the Newmans were regulars at open gym.
Brandon finally played against the "big boys" — mostly alumni — when he was about 9 or 10.
"I remember going to open gyms when I was really little and just sitting there waiting and waiting, until I could finally get in and play," Brandon said. "It would be like the last game, just to get me in. My love of basketball really grew through playing with my siblings."
Brandon credited Justin, who is four years older, with pushing him to get better. They would get mad at each other but knew they were bringing out the best in themselves.
Brandon Newman also played quarterback in high school, but basketball was his first love — with some extra nurturing from dad.
"Dad put that basketball in my hands a lot more than a football growing up," Brandon said, laughing. "I can't even remember when I didn't have a basketball."
The Newman sisters had successful careers at Minnesota Duluth, but Brandon said the Bulldogs showed little interest in him. St. Scholastica coaches, as well as Jake Naslund, a former Barnum and St. Scholastica player who is now a graduate assistant on the team, helped convince him St. Scholastica was the right place.
"Jake invited me to come up any time, and Coach Staniger made me feel like he really wanted me, and that I'd be an asset to the team right away," Brandon said.
Newman was an immediate asset, earning UMAC freshman of the year honors after averaging 11.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. The Saints' roster reads like a News Tribune All-Area team, with three players from Esko and players from Duluth, Superior, Cloquet and Moose Lake. Newman said he fit right in, even if it was odd at first.
"I walked in the locker room and look around. I played against him, him and him," Brandon said, laughing. "Growing up, I never really liked them, but it's nice to reminisce and talk with one another now. You get over that little rivalry and become good teammates. The chemistry started to click right away. It's been great. I love it."
With graduation losses, Newman has been more of a scorer this season, but he always will have a pass-first mentality.
It has been an up-and-down season for the Saints (14-9 overall, 10-4 UMAC). They had a big win over Northwestern, with Newman scoring 21 points in a 75-74 victory Jan. 20 in Duluth, but there have been duds as well.
St. Scholastica ranks in the top 10 in NCAA Division III in offensive efficiency but is in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency, so the Saints know they are going to have to guard better to win the UMAC title next week and earn the conference's automatic berth into the national tournament.
"For the Northwestern game, we were locked in," Newman said. "It really meant a lot to us, but every game should mean a lot to us."
Like their father, Katrina and Jessica Newman are coaching and teaching, with Katrina at Little Falls, Minn., and Jessica in Cloquet.
No surprise, Brandon wants to do the same.
"My dad was a big role model, and it rubbed off on us," he said. "You're surrounded by a great community, and that means more than any paycheck for me. Getting to work with the kids, and being able to make a difference in their lives, is just a great feeling."
BRANDON NEWMAN, AT A GLANCE:
Year: St. Scholastica sophomore
Major: Math and secondary education
Family: Father, Rich; mother, Corina; sister, Katrina, 24; twins Jessica and Justin, 23
Post-graduation plans: High school teacher and coach in Northland
Professional team: Every Minnesota team
TV show: "Friends"
Singer: Thomas Rhett
Restaurant: Rustic Diner in Barnum
Video game: NBA 2K
GETTING TO KNOW HIM
Why I chose St. Scholastica: Small school, close to home with a beautiful campus
Game-day ritual: I listen to music and a motivational speech, where a guy goes out on the water and is dunked under and asked, "How bad do you want to breathe?"
Most memorable basketball moment: Beating Esko at home as a senior
Pet peeve: When people bite on their silverware
Biggest fear: Drowning
My first job: Dishwasher at the Rustic Diner when I was 16
Person I'd most like to meet: Michael Jordan
What some people don't know about me: I grew up on a farm
Best athlete I've competed against: My brother
If I could change one thing about myself: I'd be taller
Sport I'd like to try someday: Hockey (I used to be able to skate, but my dad never wanted me on skates during basketball season)
Best thing about college basketball: Competitiveness, and having a shot clock
Influences on my athletic career: My family and community
Advice to aspiring young athletes: Wake up every day, greet the sun and work hard. We have a painting of a lion in our locker room, and when a lion wakes up, it has to eat, so go conquer that day.