He’s already well on his way.
Newby played a team-high 26 minutes in the Rebels’ 103-87 exhibition win over Clayton State last week. He put up all of two shots, making one, but he made 4 of 6 free throws, grabbed two rebounds and recorded two assists and two steals.
It was just another Newby-like game for the senior guard. His game is predicated on the dirty work, and his efforts are invaluable for an Ole Miss team that won’t lack for offense - not with all-league guard Stefan Moody, who scored 25 points in the win, and a promising supporting cast led by one-year graduate transfer Tomasz Gielo.
“He needs to be the guy who leads the nation in hockey assists,” Kennedy said of Newby. “Not try to make home run plays, just make the play that leads to the play. I need him to do that defensively, I need him to do it offensively and I need him to get in there and battle and find a way to get six or seven rebounds a game. Last year he was just under six. He didn’t shoot it great last year. He’s not a volume guy. I don’t want him to be a volume guy; he sometimes wants to be. I don’t want him to be a volume guy. Make timely shots, make winning plays. That’s his value to this team.”
Newby played in 34 games last season with 27 starts. Ole Miss finished 21-13, reaching the third round of the NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., after a thrilling first-round win over BYU.
His numbers, at least those that show up in headlines, don’t jump off the page. He averaged 4.0 points, shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 27.1 percent from 3 as a junior. But he also totaled 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 20.4 minutes.
“(Kennedy) always tells me the more I play defense, the more my offense will come,” Newby said. “If I make stops or get steals, run in transition. You never know on offense. If a play’s run for Moody, that third option, you never know, I might be the look. You’ve just got to be open for your chance.”
“This best team I had here statistically was obviously the (Reggie) Buckner, (Murphy) Holloway, (Marshall) Henderson, Nick Williams group,” Kennedy said. “If you sat and thought about that team, the one guy you wouldn’t put a lot of thought in is, in my opinion, our team MVP, and that was Nick Williams. He was the guy that held that group together. That’s what I need Newby to do with this team. I think he’s up to it. I’ve got to remind him of those things, ‘cause that’s hard. Sometimes when I say ‘Newby, I need you to make plays, I need you to be solid,’ sometimes that’s a mixed message to him. Maybe he gets overextended, gambles a little bit.”
Newby knows his role, and he’s receptive to the wishes of Kennedy. It’s simply another step in the maturation process of Newby, who is on pace to become, in the spring, the first in his family to graduate college.
He’s willing to sacrifice, to be the defensive and rebounding catalyst. He was second on the team in rebounding last season, trailing only forward Sebastian Saiz.
“Defense is defense. We work on a lot of defensive drills ever day,” Newby said. “Coach tries to correct the new guys and young guys, how to play defense. When they mess up, you have to be in line and all that. They feel like at this level, they don’t believe in it until they get backdoored or something like that. It’s a process.”
Ole Miss struggled on the defensive end against Clayton State. Kennedy even went so far as to call the effort “atrocious” in his postgame press conference. The Rebels allowed the Legends to shoot 52.6 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from 3.
Newby said they’ll have to be much better when Northwestern State rolls into town Friday at 4 p.m.
“The guys we’ve got on our team have to be more aware and realize that in this league it’s about playing defense,” he said. “That’s going to make the offense better. We’ve just got to be ready to play defense. It’s the same team, like last year, with the new guys. It’s so hard for them to try to adjust because everything’s happening so quick. As the season goes on, they’ll probably catch on with it.”
When the Southland Conference released its official preseason polls, voted on by league coaches and sports information directors, in October, the Demons were pegged as the prime challengers to unseat three-time defending regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin.
SFA was pegged by 12 of 13 head coaches as No. 1. The lone dissenting vote went to NSU, a veteran-laden team led by Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, who rank 1-2 in scoring average among returnees, the nation’s most productive duo.
“We don’t want to go through the same thing we did last year,” said Newby, nodding to the Rebels’ season-opening loss to Charleston Southern in 2014. “We also realize anybody you lose to in any of those games can keep you from going to the (NCAA) tournament or anything like that. Most of all, it showed us we can’t play with teams, and we have to win every game that we play.”