And that hard work on the court and good grades in the classroom are not only possible but even complementary.
And for those just looking for a good news story this weekend, it's that, too.
Age and Size Stand Out, but So Does Talent is the happy story of Julian Newman, an 11 year old basketball phenom:
Newman plays and practices with intensity, sinking 100 free throws, 200 floaters and 200 jump shots every day.
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Downey Christian School varsity basketball team bursts from the locker room in single file, led by a boy 14 inches shorter than the next smallest player, four years younger than the next youngest. . . .
The grand marshal of the player parade, Julian, an 11-year-old fifth grader, guides his team into warm-ups, bouncing two balls at once. He glides into a pregame routine that shuffles through jab steps, hesitation moves and effortless dribbles — between his pipestem legs, behind his back, rapid crossovers. . . .
Not long ago, Newman was a mere curio in the compact circle of sports programs at small Christian schools in Central Florida. But his age, his size and the wild contrast of his stature on the court with relative giants have brought global attention through Internet videos. The most-watched clip of Julian has generated more than 1.27 million views on YouTube. It has prompted a visit from “Inside Edition,” an appearance on “Steve Harvey,” comments on Twitter by Baltimore Ravens players, coverage by news agencies from as far as China and a performance at an Orlando Magic game. ScoutsFocus of Greenville, N.C., which evaluates and ranks high school players, helped put together the viral video that was filmed by a Patriots assistant. . . .
Julian fills his days by spending time in a gym or at the hoop in his front yard, where his father, Jamie, the Downey Christian coach, has painted lines to approximate a college court. Julian sinks 100 free throws, 200 floaters and 200 jump shots every day. On 3-point attempts, he leans into the shots slightly, as if to guide the ball telepathically.
The process, on a good day, requires three hours, not that he is in a hurry. The neighbors have complained, Jamie said, that the thwonk of the ball has awakened them as late as 1 a.m.
Nor does bedtime necessarily close the book on his regimen. Lying on his bed, with 13 N.B.A. jerseys along with posters of Magic Johnson and LeBron James decorating the walls, with basketballs worn out within weeks scattered about, Julian soft-tosses a ball toward the ceiling, always perfecting his form, until nodding off.
By Julian’s reckoning, he has never taken off longer than two straight days, and then only to mend a sprained ankle. Before the Newmans go on vacations, he insists that a park or recreation center with a rim be nearby. . . .
His scarce time on a computer is usually spent on the YouTube channel Superhandles. Operated by a former college player whose father exposed him at an early age to footage of Pete Maravich, as Julian was by his father, Superhandles features videos of dribbling drills and masterly moves. Julian commits them to memory, then goes to the closest court and mimics them.
The Newmans portray him as self-driven, a prodigy of sorts, eager to meet their basic requirements in order to pursue his. He earns straight A’s, they say, motivated by a policy effective enough to be every parent’s dream: homework before hoops. That explains why Julian used to knock out assignments during recess so he could start knocking down shots immediately after school.
His parents decline to impose time restrictions on basketball during weekends, holidays and summers. “People say don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Jamie said. “But it helps you.”
Newman’s father, Jamie, is Downey Christian’s coach. He supplied Newman with regulation-size balls starting at 3.
Soon after Julian showed his inclination at age 3, his father placed him on an accelerated course. He supplied regulation-size balls, not the more age-appropriate miniatures. In recreation leagues, Julian played against older boys.
For Julian, genes have proved a mixed blessing. Jamie and Vivian were point guards at rival Orlando high schools — the backdrop for their initial meeting. But Jamie is 5-6 and Vivian 5 feet, which suggests that Julian, who is a couple of inches shorter than the average 11-year-old, might be looking up at teammates and foes forever. . . .
Jamie, who also runs basketball camps and clinics, sent Julian and his sister Jaden, 8, to Downey Christian after being hired to coach and to teach history. Enrollment is so small — 340 students, from preschool through 12th grade — that the Patriots play six-man football.
Julian and Jaden began this season on their middle school teams. Tired of taking friendly ribbing from Jaden, who scored 63 points in a game, he hit for 69, then 91, earning a promotion to the varsity.
Vivian’s reaction to the upgrade? “At first, I felt no, as a mother,” she said. “I was scared he would get squished.”
Julian came off the bench, but not for long.
“If we wanted to win games, we’d have to play him right away,” Jamie said.
The Patriots’ upperclassmen were skeptical.
“But he definitely proved us wrong,” the junior Jonathan Ferrell said. “I look up to him now because he’s so much better than me.”
Downey, a longtime doormat of its low-level league, now dominates with an 18-5 record. The role reversal has not sat well with some schools, Jamie said. Five have forfeited games. For some, he said, “the real reason is, they don’t want to lose.”
The pattern of forfeits has strengthened Jamie’s resolve to shift next year into the mainstream Florida High School Athletic Association for the second of what will be Julian’s eight varsity seasons. . . .
Miles and years separate Julian and the warehouselike Downey gym — with its scuffed tile floor, seven short rows of metal bleachers, two opened ladders on one sideline and file cabinets in a corner — from a spacious college or professional arena.
To the longtime recruiting expert Dave Telep, now with ESPN, trying to project a fifth grader’s development is fruitless. “The best kid in my baseball Little League didn’t make the majors,” he said.
“From a basketball standpoint, it may not be the best situation, but that’s O.K.,” Telep said of Julian’s growth. “If you can play, you can play. If it’s right for you academically and socially, by all means, stay there.
“Somewhere along the line, you’ll have to step out of that bubble and prove you can play.”"
And an uplifting one, too.
After the news from South Africa yesterday, a little good news on the sports front is welcome.
Let's hope Nike doesn't sign him anytime soon.