Posted Feb 16th 2014
Chris Newsome: Sense of Urgency
By Paolo Mariano Posted Jul 26th 2013
For two straight years, Chris Newsome witnessed how Ateneo de Manila University romped its way to the pinnacle of the UAAP. He was there in the trophy awarding. He was present in the frenzied locker room celebration. Only, he was a mere spectator, serving his mandatory two-year residency. How he wished he was part of those back-to-back champion squads, which extended the Blue Eagles’ dynasty.
This season, Newsome has finally donned the Blue and White. Only so far, there isn’t much to celebrate. Ateneo only has two wins in six assignments—its worst start since 1998—and is second to the last in the standings, only a shade better than the winless University of the Philippines (UP).
But as they say, take the good with the bad, and for the Blue Eagles, that good has been Newsome. After two years of simply applauding behind the bench, he’s now bullying his way in front of the rim or soaring over it for a photogenic slam.
“It was a relief when I finally played my first UAAP game. Two years of watching can get you antsy, especially seeing the guys you battle in practice every day,” said Newsome.
It seems those daily practices have paid off. So far, he’s the best player in Ateneo’s rickety roster. He’s averaging a team-high 14.3 PPG on top of 8.2 RPG and 2.7 APG in a Swiss Army knife-role. He scores, rebounds, defends, brings down the ball, hustles, and everything else in between. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he cleans the Moro Lorenzo Gym after every practice as well.
“I pride myself in taking any role in the team. That's my game," said Newsome. "I'm never satisfied. I always feel that I can do more.”
“Any coach would notice right away how athletically gifted Chris is. He runs faster and jumps higher than any other player his size and age,” said head coach Bo Perasol.
Contrary to what most opposing fans believe, Newsome is not an import. He is half-Filipino. He was born in San Jose, California in 1990 but his mother, whose family moved to the United States when she was seven, hails from Parañaque.
The 6-foot-2 wingman starred for Rio Rancho High School before playing college ball at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU), an NCAA Division II school. It’s not exactly known for its athletics. Its most well-known product is the late wrestler Eddie Guerrero. But during Newsome’s freshman year in 2008, he was part of the Cowboys team that recorded the biggest win turnaround in NCAA history—in all divisions. They went from 1-28 to 20-8 and won the West Division of their conference.
He suited up for NMHU for three years, averaging 10.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 2.8 APG in his final season in 2010 before packing his bags to the Philippines.
“Basketball in the States is more above the rim. The players are more athletic. That’s why I like to jump high, run, (make) power moves, that’s the style I’m used to,” said Newsome, who first dunked in second year high school. “Here, it’s more grounded, but the players are really quick.”
He wouldn’t be playing here if not for his college coach, Joe Harge. After finding out that Newsome had Filipino blood, he sent several tapes to his contacts in the Philippines. Some camps were easily impressed. They even thought he could jump straight to the PBA. He attended several practices at UP and was also part of the pool for the Sinag Pilipinas Team that captured the gold in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia.
Eventually, he landed in Ateneo. Then-head coach Norman Black, who also mentored Sinag, convinced him to continue his studies and sit out two years to be able to play in the UAAP.
“I came here to continue my basketball career and Ateneo is the best situation for me. It offers good education and its basketball program is great as well. If it wasn’t for this (UAAP), I just might be a regular guy in the States,” said Newsome, who is taking up Communication Arts.
Joining the five-time champs, however, also comes with a tiny caveat: Don’t suck. With a school so used to winning, expectations are lofty for touted recruits like Newsome. The alumni are demanding, former Ateneo players are diagnostic, and fans are overcritical. But after being in the sidelines for two years, he doesn’t even think of the pressure. He just wants to hoop.
“It’s not so much about the pressure for me. It’s more about the urgency. I’m very eager to play. I know a lot of people are putting pressure on us, but I'm more worried about just fitting into the system. The six-peat will happen if it will happen. I can only control what I can control," said Newsome.
For now, a six straight title is unlikely. The hole left by Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, and Justin Chua hasn’t been filled. The early injury of Kiefer Ravena only compounded the Blue Eagles’ woes. They are tied for sixth in scoring with 68.8 PPG and second to the last in field goal percentage at 39.3%—statistics they dominated last season. Plus, there’s the issue of having a new coach. Factor all these and you have a team dying for even the tiniest momentum.
While the early defeats should be a cause for concern, Newsome still has spirits as high as his vertical leap. He should—he’s having a sensational rookie year. Besides, they really can’t do anything about the losses. Just forget and move on. In sports, it sometimes helps to have an awful memory.
“We know we could be better. Even though we have a losing record right now, we still have a chance. We just need to work on it and keep on improving,” said Newsome.
Waiting for your turn in pick-up games is already a pain. Sitting out two years in the UAAP? It’s torture. But once you finally step on the court, see the fans high-fiving, hear the drums banging, and smell the competition brewing, the ache all goes away.
“I already got the feeling of eagerness out of the way, now it's all business,” said Newsome.