Malik Newman never had any problems scoring with his array of weapons. But the Frutti Extra Bursaspor guard is using his debut season in Europe to become a better playmaker - thanks in part to his head coach.
Newman arrived in Turkey with high credentials and Bursaspor’s 0-3 start in the 7DAYS EuroCup also wasn’t what he had in mind: "We got off to a rough start. We are better than our record shows," said Newman, who is averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in the three losses. "We are making little mistakes that we have to fix. But it’s still early and we’ll continue to fight and get better day by day."
One of the club's problems has been its defense. Usually scoring 81.3 points a game would be enough for at least one win, but the club, which is also making its EuroCup debut, has allowed 93.3 points per contest.
"As long as you win, it makes everything enjoyable that you're doing."
"We have to focus more on gang rebounding and not just expect our bigs to get every rebound," Newman said. "We defend the first shot well, we just don't complete the defensive sequence. Limiting offensive rebounds for us is a focal point right now and we understand that giving up second chances points won’t allow us to win in this league."
And winning is something that Newman knows well. He guided Callaway High to four Mississippi state high school titles and also helped the United States win the FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2013 and the gold medal at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2014. Winning those titles in national team play meant a lot to Newman, who was named MVP of both tournaments.
"I had my country on the front of my chest, so I was playing for much more than myself. It was an amazing experience," he said.
In fact, Newman ranks being able to call himself a world champion as the number one achievement in his still-young career: "You put together your best players under one coach to go face other countries and you compete. And being able to come out victorious is the best feeling in the world - knowing that you were able to accomplish something to that magnitude. Not everyone can say that’s something they’ve accomplished."
Newman averaged 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists at the U17 World Cup, including collecting 21 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists in the gold-medal game against Australia. He also came up just short of winning a college title as he helped the Kansas Jayhawks reach the 2018 NCAA Final Four, where they lost to eventual champion Villanova in the national semifinals.
"The run to the Final Four was beautiful. As long as you win, it makes everything enjoyable that you're doing. Everybody goes to college thinking they want to be the last team standing. We were 40 minutes from that dream. You have to enjoy that whole process. Only four teams get to feel that feeling each year," Newman said.
The 2017-18 season was his only one with the Jayhawks, where he had transferred to after playing the 2015-16 season at Mississippi State. Things did not go as well as he had hoped there and Newman decided to transfer to KU, which meant sitting out a season due to transfer regulations in college basketball.
"The biggest thing you can take from a situation like that is trust and timing - and being prepared for what comes with certain decisions," said Newman. He played the 2018-19 season with Sioux Falls of the G-League. Last season he played with Canton and was called up to play one game for Cleveland in the NBA.
Newman was always known as an almost unstoppable scorer. But he worked especially hard in 2019-20 with Canton on becoming a better point guard and playmaker. He was happy with the fruits of his labor with Canton coach Nate Reinking, who played for many years professionally in Europe, including during the 2005-06 EuroCup campaign for Belgium's Euphony Basket Bree.
“I love the job Coach Nate and his coaching staff did with me last year. They really helped me develop and see the game more and be able to read defenses more than I could before," Newman said of Reinking, who is also Great Britain's national team coach. "I was very excited about my development as a playmaker because it made me much more of a complete player. Whether I'm playing point guard or shooting guard, it doesn’t really make a difference for me. I just want to be allowed to make plays and play basketball."
After two seasons of playing in the G-League, Newman decided it was time to try the European game.
"I was very optimistic about coming over here and playing. My mindset was just come over here and be a professional and have fun," he said.
With his arrival in Bursa, Newman once again found a head coach who had played the game at a high level. Bursaspor head coach Tutku Acik spent six seasons as a point guard in the EuroLeague - as recently as 2012-13 - and playing in Turkey’s first division until retiring in 2017 at 37 years of age.
"Coach Tutku has shown me a ton and really helped me adjust to the style of play."
"In a short amount of time, Coach Tutku has shown me a ton and really helped me adjust to the style of play. He’s shown me different like tricks to beat certain defenses and what to look for against certain coverages," Newman said. "I'm looking to him for guidance with this being my first year in Europe and he's done a terrific job of leading me in the right direction for me and the team to be successful."
With just more than a month of games in Europe under his belt -including EuroCup games against teams from Italy, Greece and Spain - Newman has been impressed with the game on the Old Continent.
"The level of competition here is incredible. There is a lot of talent across the board, and guys actually know how to play. They don’t really rely on athleticism. They have great IQs and are very disciplined about how they play," said Newman, who is averaging 14.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals in the Turkish League.
When it comes to his goals for this season, the main word Newman mentions is win: "I just want to win. I didn't really set any goals for myself this year. I just want to be the best player I can be and help my team win. I feel as long as the team is winning, my individual goals are set."
Whether that be scoring or as a playmaker.