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VALPARAISO — As Valparaiso's Brandon Newman stacked 30-point game after 30-point game, his status outgrew what anyone expected when he entered high school.

Newman completed his growth from a raw but talented freshman who scored three varsity points to one of Indiana’s top athletes. He 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. 

Opponents looked overmatched when Newman followed a deep, contested 3 with one of his trademark pick-6 steals for a jam that galvanized Vikings fans and hushed opposing crowds.

Everywhere Newman went, he met chants of "overrated" from opposing student sections with a steady stream of buckets and the occasional oral clapback. 

For the second straight season, Newman is The Times Boys Basketball Player of the Year. How did he do it?

“It was just a brick at a time,” Newman said. “A workout at a time, a practice at a time, taking everything day by day, not knowing what was gonna happen.”

For all the noise surrounding Newman and his rise, he's decidedly anti-hype. His approach to basketball may not mirror his explosive game, but those around him say that same steadiness is what got him to where he is today.

Brick by Brick

Unlike many top recruits, Newman didn’t emerge as a coveted prospect until his last two years of high school.

He grew up loving basketball, a passion he said he drew from countless family members who play or played the game. Newman’s development into a Division I prospect, however, arguably didn’t start until he was 12 or 13 years old.

One day, Newman was shooting at the Boys and Girls Club of Valparaiso when Bruce Collins, a former Valparaiso University football player, noticed him. Collins called his friend Darryl Jackson, a former Crusader men's basketball manager, who said he took Newman under his wing.

At that point, there was no indication Newman would seriously pursue a Division I career. Jackson said he simply wanted to be a resource for a young African American boy in the Valparaiso community.

Darren Kincaid Jr., another former Valpo football player, met Newman shortly after Jackson. Kincaid now refers to Newman as his little brother.

Jackson, now an assistant coach at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, started working Newman through drills. As Newman got older, Jackson said he one day asked Newman if he wanted to fully throw himself into basketball and try for a scholarship at a major school.

Did Newman want to play at the level of Purdue or that of Purdue Northwest? After some contemplation, Newman called him back.

He was all in.

A few years later, Valparaiso coach Barak Coolman arrived from Fort Wayne Northrup for Newman’s freshman campaign and first met him at an open gym in the offseason. Coolman saw a player with raw talent but without the corresponding results, and Newman started off on the freshman team.

“He wasn’t even the best player on his team in middle school,” Coolman said. “But he definitely had some ability, and so as the year progressed and he earned a spot on the JV team and was one of the key members of the JV team as a rebounder and slasher, that’s when I really thought, ‘He’s got the potential to make a big step.’ That’s when I spent a lot of time teaching him and working with him on his shot, and then he put the time in.”

The two grew close over Newman's four years. Newman's parents, Ronald and Charmagne, both described Coolman as a father figure. Charmagne Newman further lauded Coolman's respect and loyalty.

As Newman developed with the help of Coolman and Jackson, he started spending most of each day either practicing or watching film. Newman, Jackson, Kincaid, Collins and Vikings senior Nate Aerts adopted a motto to fit Newman's dedication to basketball. He now displays it on his Twitter profile, and it informs his approach to his daily life: “Brick by Brick.”

Kincaid, a fixture in the front row of Vikings games, said it represents a reminder to honor family and value each day, not knowing what lies ahead. Newman and Kincaid even have matching black T-shirts with “BRICK X BRICK” emblazoned across the chest in white and red lettering.

“He’s a family person,” Kincaid said of Newman. “That’s what drew me to him. I have three little girls, and anybody who knows me, I don’t let just anybody come around my kids. They love him.

“Kids will show you somebody’s heart. So that’s really where I fell in love with (Newman), so to say. That’s when he became my little brother: When my kids were comfortable around him. They’re screaming, ‘Are we going to Brandon’s games? Let’s go work out with Brandon!’”

A Return to Remember

Newman announced in July that he would attend basketball powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida for his senior season, and his reversal of the decision in August sent shockwaves through Region basketball.

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The area’s top player all of a sudden had to be re-accounted for. Valparaiso immediately re-took its throne as the Region’s top team. Still, hurdles existed.

When Newman went south to Montverde, he said he noticed that not everyone in Northwest Indiana accepted his decision. Some openly opposed it. Business-like Montverde — meant to showcase players and prepare them for their basketball careers — made for stark contrast with the purportedly wholesome, traditional Indiana high school experience that Newman sacrificed.

“I heard a few things, but it was my decision,” Newman said. “It was what I thought was best for myself and my family and what I wanted to do with the game of basketball.”

Brandon Newman returned in August due to concerns about Charmagne Newman’s health and successfully disarmed the potential awkwardness of returning to a team he had chosen to leave. It helped that, according to Newman, his Valparaiso teammates understood his initial decision and remained close with him.

In exchange for elite competition, Newman received the comfort of family and friends. He got one more season’s worth of dinners with teammates he grew up with and made multiple trips to see Purdue play.

Charmagne Newman played a key role in Brandon Newman’s early basketball life, and her son’s return gave her the irreplaceable feeling of seeing him walk through the door after school and practice daily. Brandon Newman said he considered attending La Lumiere, which ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today throughout this past season and holds a similar national reputation to Montverde. Brandon Newman talked to Lakers coaches but said he needed to be with his mother. La Lumiere wasn’t home.

“It’s very comforting (to have Brandon here),” Charmagne Newman said. “I’m glad that he came back.”

Newman reveres his teammates in a way some players with such a heavy burden don’t: His 27.2 points per game constituted nearly 42 percent of Valparaiso’s per-game average. He shares the ball on the court and goes out of his way to praise teammates during interviews once games end. It’s an aspect of his prospect profile that doubtlessly appealed to college programs.

Charmagne and Ronald Newman said their son’s ability to ignore criticism of his move to Montverde and neutralize any awkwardness showed his maturity. For all of the recruiting hype, those around Newman said he’s an astonishingly normal, down-to-earth high schooler.

Newman loves movies — his favorite is “Like Mike” — and said there was a multi-week span when he went to the theater at least every weekend with teammates Brandon Mack and Rafeek El-Naggar. He has recently developed an interest in business, his planned major at Purdue. Aside from the competition, Newman said his favorite part of playing basketball is inspiring young children, just as varsity players once inspired him.

“I feel like now, even more so, I get certain (social media messages) or something on Instagram and stuff, and people will be surprised I respond,” Newman said. “I want people to know I’m just like you. You can come talk to me about anything, even if you don’t know me.”

Purdue fans and others approached Newman before and after games — win or lose — seeking autographs or simply wanting to meet him. His only peace on game nights came when he and Coolman sat together with teammates while the JV played. Ronald Newman half-joked that his son gets more interview requests than NBA players.

The distractions didn’t show on the court.

Newman's 49 points against Concord on Feb. 16 set a school record, and multiple coaches singled him out as the Region’s best defensive player. His production typically translated against top competition, too, as a 33-point, 12-rebound performance against Warren Central on Dec. 29 illustrated.

Make no mistake: Newman said he wants Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award. Regardless of whether Newman wins it, he posted one of the best seasons in recent Region memory.

“He’s a self-made basketball player,” Coolman said. “I think the big thing is for him to be able to come into a season with really big expectations and meet them, for the most part, under a lot of different things going on and a lot of different distractions throughout the course of the year. I think that’s just a testament to how hard he worked to continue. He didn’t get satisfied.”

Responding to Failure

Valparaiso faced pressure unlike any it had seen all season in the Sectional 2 final on March 2. Chesterton held a double-digit lead, and the Trojans started to slow the pace and hold the ball, forcing the Vikings to pressure.

When Valparaiso got the ball back, the Vikings looked tight. Newman started forcing shots — still, shots he has made this season — and the ball caromed off the rim again and again. His last-second 3-pointer to tie barely missed, capping a 1 of 13 shooting night for nine points.

Valparaiso had built toward Newman's senior class for at least two years. Newman said he envisioned he and his teammates taking the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the state title game, not falling to his team’s rival before regionals.

Newman untucked his jersey and walked to the scorer’s table for the postgame handshake line, pursing his lips and contorting his mouth to the side, hands on hips. Meanwhile, the Trojans threw the ball in the air, pumped their fists and grabbed their heads in disbelief.

Newman put together a season nearly unrivaled in Valparaiso history, and he said that's part of what made the loss so difficult. His 706 points this season stand as the second-most for any Viking, behind only Bryce Drew’s 1994 season. When Newman's last 3 missed by millimeters, it left him with 1,577 career points, tied for second with Drew on Valparaiso's all-time scoring list.

“Wanting to be that first team to bring a state championship to Valpo was one of our goals for the season," Newman said. "Personally, myself, I had records and goals that I wanted to break: being the all-time leading scorer at Valpo. Coming up so short and coming so close to that, I think those things are really motivating."

Nearly a month later, Newman said he still thinks about the loss. Coolman said players can meet failure with either frustration or motivation — Newman will leave for Purdue in June determined not to let the former take hold. 

“I'm itching to get down there,” Newman said. “I want to bring a national championship to Purdue."

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Porter County Sports Reporter

Robbie Weinstein covers Porter County prep sports and Valparaiso University athletics for The Times. You can find the Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University grad posted up on the nearest field of play or in front of the TV.