VALPARAISO — When Purdue freshman Brandon Newman was a slender, raw middle schooler who hadn't grown to anywhere near his current 6-foot-5 frame, he spent parts of summers at Valparaiso's middle school camp learning from accomplished high school players.
Newman's long-term future didn't appear to include basketball at that point, and the camps never involved high-profile college players he watched on television. Still, the sessions made an impact. The Times' Porter and LaPorte Counties Male Athlete of the Year knew he wanted to give back.
This spring, Newman helped coach children at The Courts of Northwest Indiana in Valparaiso at weekly clinics. Every Friday night for eight weeks, basketball-loving kids packed the gym to scrimmage and run drills.
“I love coming here every Friday,” Newman said. “We just come out here and compete and get better and have fun.
“Just kind of passing it down. It was done for me, so I just want to give back as much as I can while I'm here.”
Every session was free. Newman and his friends, Darryl Jackson and Darren Kincaid Jr., shepherded campers through drills before diving into scrimmages. Newman and Valparaiso University junior forward Mileek McMillan coached opposing teams, trotting up and down the sidelines shouting encouragement, pointing out directions and jumping up and down after made shots.
Working with children isn't new for Newman. He has assisted with Valparaiso High School's summer basketball camps as well as clinics at the Valparaiso Boys & Girls Club in the past.
“He's great with working with young kids,” Valparaiso coach Barak Coolman said. “He's got a heart, he wants to give back to kids like he has been given to. He's a good teacher, has been taught well and knows what he's doing.”
The Boys & Girls Club didn't quite offer the flexibility the group needed this spring. That's when Kincaid reached out to Brother James Dixon of Fruitful First Ministry.
Dixon secured a couple of courts, and the clinics grew all spring. On April 26, just four kids showed up for the very first session. Within weeks, 30-40 players ranging from roughly fourth to eighth grade turned up to work with Newman and McMillan.
At the end of each session, campers plopped down on a set of bleachers as Newman and Dixon shared a microphone, talking about life and faith.
Newman led all Region players with 27.2 points per game while adding 8.8 rebounds per game and setting a school record for career blocked shots. If statisticians tracked poster dunks, the Purdue commit would likely lead Northwest Indiana in those, too. He was also named The Times' Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Newman plans to major in business at Purdue and has developed from a relatively soft-spoken person early in high school to someone who now regularly speaks to crowds.
“When you're a successful athlete, you get a lot of chances to talk in front of groups,” Coolman said. “I think it's starting to become second nature. ... Just even in the camps that we've done and elementary stuff with the high school when he has a chance to speak, he has continued to get better and better at it.”
While Newman said the camps are just for fun, he wants to make a deeper impression on the children who attend. Dixon said the message to attendees is that societal change begins with individual change.
Newman added another.
“Just that they can do it too,” Newman said. “I just want to be an inspiration for them and be living proof for them that they can do the same things.”