THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, February 11, 1996 TAG: 9602110228 SECTION: SPORTS PAGE: C4 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY ED MILLER, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Long : 115 lines
Wake Forest's Tim Duncan sarcastically referred to him as ``the greatest player I've ever seen.'' Temple center Mark Jackson knocked him cold with an elbow to the back of the head.
Both big signs of progress for Duke's Greg Newton.
After two years of rusting on the Blue Devil bench, the 6-foot-10 center is finally mixing it up, elbows akimbo, in the ACC. Like him or not, he's made his presence known.
``To me, Greg Newton has had a wonderful year,'' Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said. ``He's gotten better every single game.''
Newton has had a solid enough season, averaging 12.3 points and 7.4 rebounds heading into today's rematch with Duncan and Wake Forest. Aggressive and physical, he's an invaluable figure on a Duke team that is painfully thin in the frontcourt.
But he's become better known for his involvement in a couple of highly publicized incidents: a verbal sparring match with Duncan and the TKO administered by Jackson.
Newton matched up with Duncan for the first time on Jan. 10. Wake won the game 57-54 and Duncan won the matchup, outscoring Newton 24-8.
Asked about Duncan afterward, Newton was perhaps a little too honest. Duncan told The Washington Post that Duncan was ``passive'' and ``soft'' and said the Wake center can turn his game off and on at will. If Duncan played hard all the time, he could be an ``unbelievable player,'' Newton said.
Newton also gave Duncan his due, later saying, ``He's where I want to be. He's a great player.''
The earlier remarks were already out there, though. Told of them, Duncan responded with his ``greatest player'' comment.
That was a month ago. Odom said Duncan won't be extra motivated to show up Newton today.
``(Duncan) is about as unaffected by those remarks, if they were made, as anybody I've ever been around,'' Odom said.
``There's nobody here mad at Greg Newton.''
Newton has said he's put it all behind him, too, the spat with Duncan and the cheap shot by Jackson, the result of some physical play that got out of hand. Jackson served a one-game suspension and sent Newton a letter of apology.
Now, Newton's trying to get on with the business of being the player he was recruited to be three years ago - the next Duke big man in a chain that runs unbroken from Mark Alarie to Cherokee Parks, with Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner in between.
``It's a tradition, and hopefully I can carry it on,'' Newton said.
He was expected to. As an incoming freshman, Newton fit the profile of your average Duke All-American recruit, except that he was raised just north of the border, in Niagra Falls, Ontario.
Newton quickly got into the American way of doing things, however.
When he showed promise as a high school sophomore, his father started an AAU team that began traveling south of the border to play.
Newton's father had pitched in the Milwaukee Braves organization. His mother still plays recreation basketball, and an older brother plays basketball at a Canadian university.
``He comes by his talent naturally,'' said Bob Coul, Newton's high school coach. ``He's a very good athlete who happens to be 6-10. He's a good golfer. He hits it a ton, and usually hits it fairly straight. He also played volleyball, and he's a pretty fair badminton player.''
Newton committed verbally to Duke during the 12th grade - there are 13 in Canadian schools - and got his team invited to prestigious high school tournaments like the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., an unheard-of invitation for the Canadian boys.
``We were in the lower bracket, the category of `lesser teams with great stars,' '' Coul said.
Despite all his AAU experience, and a stint with the Canadian National Team, Newton wasn't ready for what he ran into at Duke, and he sat on the bench behind Parks and Erik Meek.
``I was really nervous, and not getting into the flow of the game,'' Newton said.
He was having troubles off the court as well. A smoking habit, something he picked up at age 15, got worse when his father died.
``In high school, it was more of a social thing, when I went out and had a few drinks with my friends,'' he said. ``After my dad passed away it became more serious.''
Academic troubles boiled over last spring, when Newton was placed on academic suspension for allegedly cheating in a computer science class. It's a charge he denies.
Nevertheless, he knew he had to turn things around if he was going to salvage his career at Duke.
``I had to go to summer school, and I really beared down on my academics. I had to get those classes, or I couldn't play.''
Newton also gave up smoking and drinking, habits he said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't know about.
``(Duke assistant coach) Quin Synder knew, because he smoked himself,'' Newton said. ``We both went on a nicotine patch.
``It's really helped my conditioning. I can play more minutes, and I don't get groggy anymore.''
Newton needs to play a lot minutes for Duke to be competitive. He's the only experienced inside player the Blue Devils have, and the only inside scoring threat, the only player likely to cause an opponent to think twice about driving the lane.
``When he was getting in foul trouble early in the conference race, not having him really caused us to have some weird lineups,'' Krzyzewski said.
Lately, Newton has been staying out of foul trouble, and away from the temptation to step out of his comfort zone offensively. Conservative in his shot selection, Newton would lead the ACC in field goal percentage (60 percent) if he had enough attempts.
``I don't like to force anything,'' he said. ``I try to take only good shots.''
As Duncan and Jackson would attest, Newton's shown he can dish out shots, as well as take them. ILLUSTRATION: Photo
Tim Duncan, labeled as ``soft'' by Greg Newton, sarcastically called
Newton, right, ``the greatest player I've ever seen.''