High Flying Newman Stayed Grounded

As the afternoon began to wind down, Malik Newman sat in his mother's lap. There he was, one of the nation's top talents away from the hustle and bustle of a day that saw him declare his intentions to enroll at Mississippi State, resting in the arms of the woman who birthed him. With his charming smile, Newman looks at peace with the world.

The media center at Callaway High school was a buzz with activity as local TV crews packed up their gear to head back to the office to share the big news of Newman's decision to stay home and play for Mississippi State next season.

After polishing off a few chicken fingers a piece of cake that bore his name, Newman looked more like an everyday kid instead of a five star talent who will likely grace the cover of the Mississippi State media guide next fall.

Before Newman was a house hold name in college basket ball recruiting circles and a high schooler with over 25,000 twitter followers, he was the pride and joy of former Mississippi State star Horatio Webster and Lakeyshia Myles.

Every parent believes that they see greatness in their children. For Myles, the first flashes she noticed in her son began shortly after he was steady on his feet as a toddler.

"I could just sort of tell early on with Malik that he was a little different," Myles said of Newman. "I could just see in how he carried himself that he was a little different from the other kids. As a mother, you always kind of know and with Malik I knew he was different."

Growing up the son of a former All-SEC forward, Newman had a basketball in his hands from a very early age. His mother reports that he began to show an interest in the sport not long after he began to walk.

"Looking back, I think it all really started when he was about two," Myles said. "He could pick the ball up and even dribble a little bit back then. He was always playing with it even when he was little."

As Newman grew as a young man and developed as a player, another woman entered his life. Newman's father began a life with wife, Katherine Webster, so the Newman cheering section grew in a big way.

"I think we started seeing him do some special things around age six," Webster said. "Then around 11, it just looked like basketball was what he really wanted to do. He started to really commit to it at a very early age."

That commitment grew along with Newman's profile on the AAU circuit. Before his high school career had really even taken off, the Jackson, Mississippi native was receiving interest from major college basketball programs.

"It got a lot bigger than I ever expected," Webster admitted. "I never thought all of this would happen like it has. This was the first time I have ever had to endure something like this and it really got bigger than I ever imagined."

Through four years of high school, four state championships, All-American selections, All-Star games and the recruiting process, the five star talent has just been Malik to those who knew him best.

"He has always been grounded and had his head on straight," Webster explained. "We have really been blessed in that area. We have never had to really worry about him. His dad has done a great job of instilling the importance of family and staying on the right track. He has always been taught how to be a productive child in today's society."

The recruiting process can change people. Prospects who begin with humility can develop a sense of entitlement as some of the game's top coaches court them to become a part of their programs.

It appears that no such transition took place when it came to Malik Newman.

"We never saw any of the pressure get to him or see him change as a person," Wesbter said. "I think there was actually more pressure on me than on him. I used to tell him that I didn't know how he was handling this all so well.

"People are judgmental and have a lot to say. People get opinionated and that's okay. Malik is a strong willed kid who is strong minded. All of that just sort of went over his head and he never let it bother him. Some of it bothered me, but it none of those comments ever seemed to really bother him."

Katherine Webster is quick to give her husband and Malik's father, Horatio Webster, a lot of the credit for helping Newman navigate through his college selection process.

"I love the fact that his dad is so involved," Webster said. "He has been there before, so he helped Malik stay on the right track. He was able to help him see all of the pros and cons and the dos and don'ts of all of this, because he has been there."

Newman collected offers from around the country including tenders from NCAA hardwood heavyweights Kansas and Kentucky. When the cameras rolled on Friday, Newman put on a Mississippi State cap sending a strong and clear message that the Bulldogs are back in business when it comes to college basketball.

"This is a big milestone for him and something he has been talking about for a very long time," Myles said of Newman's decision. "He's wanted this for so long. It's just a blessing really."

Webster shared similar sentiments about the announcement that immediately made Newman the face of the Mississippi State program and the first official signing of the Ben Howland era in Starkville.

"This has been a wonderful experience," Webster said. "I am so glad that he chose to stay home. This such a great day for our family and for Mississippi. I think it's all so great. It's just great that he will continue the legacy at Mississippi State. His dad did some big things there and we hope that Malik can do even bigger and better things."

Heading into the announcement, Myles was not completely sure where Newman would spend his college days. Like the rest of the world, she got the final verdict on Friday.

"I didn't know for sure until today," Myles said. "He sort of kept everything a secret. He has talked about different schools, but he didn't really want all of the things that come behind all of this. He made his own decision."

Newman had his pick of the college basketball world, but ultimately elected to say home and play for Mississippi State and be a part of returning that program to greatness. In the end, his mother reports that she would have supported him no matter which school he elected to attend.

"I think he made a good decision and it will be nice having him close, but wherever he went I would be there," Myles said. "Malik has a lot of people who look up to him, so I think him staying home to play when he could have gone anywhere is a good look for him. I am just so proud of him."


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