Jakai Newton was the first recruit from the class of 2023 to sign with Mike Woodson’s Hoosiers when he announced his commitment way back in October of 2021. Newton, a four star prospect ranked 111th in his class, per 247Sports, is a combo guard from Covington, Georgia.
Before a knee injury in the spring of 2022, Newton had been ranked as highly as 62nd in his class in the 24/7 composite, but the injury forced him to miss the 2022 AAU season before he eased back into his high school season in early February.
Despite the injury, Newton was still nominated for this year’s McDonald’s All-American game, a reflection of his talent when healthy. Even when his overall ranking dipped to 111, he remained the 15th best combo guard nationally.
Watching his highlights, it’s immediately apparent that Newton is a different kind of athlete than Indiana’s had in its backcourt in quite some time. He doesn’t have the size and strength of a guy like Jalen Hood-Schifino, but he beats guys with his first step and can throw down some truly vicious dunks with his explosive leaping ability. He even finishes a few put back dunks off teammates’ misses.
Given his athleticism and driving ability, he appears to do most of his scoring at the basket, but is developing a jumper that he can knock down from distance when his teammates find him on the perimeter. His athleticism also makes him a good defensive prospect, which could endear him to Woodson early on.
As the roster stands now, Newton also may not have the luxury of being eased into the college game, with only Trey Galloway and possibly C.J. Gunn ahead of him on the depth chart. He projects well in time, but it would probably be good for his development if the coaching staff can add another guard or two before the start of the season.
Newton is definitely developing an ability to knock down contested jumpers, which could earn him some early playing time no matter who is on the roster depending on his continued development there. His defensive development is likely what will determine his role as a freshman though, especially considering his ability to drive to the basket.
Regardless of his role next year, Newton projects to bring a knack for scoring to the shooting guard position that Indiana hasn’t had in some time. He even seems like he could play as a small ball wing alongside two guards with his ability to drive from anywhere on the floor and finish at the rim.