Instant Reaction: Malik Newman commits to Kansas

Malik Newman was a star at Callaway High School in Mississippi, as the 6’3″ combo guard was labeled as a five-star recruit and was ranked 10th in ESPN’s top 100 for the class of 2015.

Instead of joining a blueblood program – Kansas and Kentucky were heavily in the mix for Newman out of high school – the Jackson, Miss native opted to remain at home, deciding to attend Mississippi State to play under new head coach Ben Howland.

And it all went downhill from there.

Newman, who was projected as a one-and-done prospect before his freshman campaign kicked off, dealt with a nagging toe injury throughout the season and had a brutal year in the SEC.

The guard averaged 11.3 points, but grabbed only 2.8 rebounds per game, averaged only 0.3 more assists than turnovers, and was often left standing in the corner on half-court offensive possessions. Quinndary Weatherspoon was the best freshman on the team, and when Newman declared for the NBA Draft following the season, he was projected to go undrafted.

Newman was invited to the NBA Combine in Chicago, however, he played poorly, fumbling the ball out of bounds, taking bad shots, and failing to play solid defense in the 5-on-5 scrimmages.

Before the NCAA’s NBA Draft deadline, Newman decided to return to school. But instead of remaining with the Bulldogs, him and his family felt a fresh start would be best. Newman wasn’t happy with his role and clearly wasn’t pleased with the fact that the Bulldogs weren’t able to make the NCAA Tournament during his freshman season.

And with that, Newman finds himself in a situation that he could have very easily been in from the start.

On Friday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman announced that Newman has officially transferred to Kansas over Western Kentucky, Oregon and North Carolina State. He visited all four schools in the past few weeks, but felt most comfortable playing under Bill Self in the Big-12.

“I’m glad they wanted me again,” Newman said to ESPN. “I love the basketball culture at Kansas, the way Bill Self holds guys accountable and love the atmosphere.

Goodman is reporting that one of the main reasons that Newman chose Kansas was the opportunity to compete against one of the best backcourts in the country, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, on a daily basis.

Newman is an excellent scorer – he is a solid shooter, good ball handler, great pick-and-roll player and can attack the rim – but he needs to work on his defense and consistency. Mason and Graham, who are always on the attack and bring a sense of toughness to any court they step on, will certainly test Newman, even if it’s only in a practice setting.

This is also a smart decision for Newman in terms of publicity. His goal is clearly to play at the next level and there is no place better (besides Kentucky and Duke) in terms of gaining national exposure than Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 12 straight Big 12 titles, make the NCAA Tournament in Lawrence is a yearly occurrence and play on national television all year long.

And most importantly, Newman will have a solid supporting cast, which should take the burden off his shoulders. The Mississippi State has to sit out one season (he doesn’t have eligibility until 2017-18 and can play two more seasons after that year), so Mason won’t play a second with Newman.

But Graham will be back for his senior season in 2017-18, and the Jayhawks also will have Lagerald Vick in the backcourt. Self is always active on the recruiting trail so they will almost certainly add at least one other guard in the near future.

Newman has some areas of his game to clean up, but this looks like the right move for the combo guard who hoped to dash to the NBA after one season in Starkville.