The resurrection of the Indiana-Duke series brings warm memories to those of certain age, an opportunity to romanticize the heroes of 13 years ago.
Jeff Newton wasn't the best or most loved player on Indiana's 2002 team that made a cinderella run to the national title game before falling to Juan Dixon and Maryland. He was a rim-protector, often on the floor for defense and rebounding. Undoubtedly one of Indiana's most important player on that run, but one that likely never got his full due for what he did for Mike Davis' program.
Newton's pro career has taken a similar path to his work in the paint at Indiana -- long, often unheralded, and really, really productive. He's spent the past nine seasons in Japan, most recently playing for the Ryukyu Golden Kings in Okinawa. Still wearing his traditional No. 50 that dates back to the Knight era at Indiana, the Georgia native became a "legend" in Japan -- he's the league's all-time winningest player. In a game in 2008, he posted one of the most impressive stat lines you'll see in any game anywhere, a 40-point, 30-rebound performance. He was the league's MVP during his team's run to a title in 2009. That's a change in role from the Jeff Newton Hoosier fans know -- the low-post shot-blocker and rebounder that anchored Indiana's defense while Jeffries & Coverdale often got the glory.
Now, at age 34 and coming off another Japanese championship, Newton tells the Japan Times he's hanging it up:
"My decision was really impromptu," Newton told The Japan Times from Atlanta. "I was planning to go for a few more years at least to be honest. I didn’t really feel like starting over again."
"I like to win. . . . I’m addicted to winning . . . all that really matters to me — that and having a good time.
"I feel like I did both those to the fullest in my time in Japan," he added. "But when you get let go two times, both after winning championships, it put things in perspective for me. Like if I don’t have job security, am I gonna have to prove myself every night, even if the team is winning?
"We’re not getting paid enough for all that stress. So for right now I’m putting my talents to the second thing I do best: having a good time. But now I’m doing it with my family and friends back home."
Newton goes on to tell the Times that he's not interested in coaching or staying in the game of basketball. Right now, he's just enjoying time with family around the Atlanta area. In total, Newton went to eight Japanese Final Fours in his nine season in the league. Oh, and yeah, he still led the league in blocked shots for three straight years from 2005-08.
Newton gave some "praise" to a former Hoosier teammate who played in Japan, as well. He competed against George Leach for several seasons in Japan, and had this to say to The Times about his former Hoosier teammate:
"George has the best left hand jump hook I’ve ever seen," Newton declared. "The best barbecue I’ve ever had . . . and the worst right hand in all of sports history."
Here's hoping Indiana Athletics can bring back Jeff Newton to honor him next season -- if only so he can bring George Leach along to smoke a pork butt for all of us in the Assembly Hall parking lot.