Malik Newman lives in Jackson. Diamond Stone lives in Milwaukee.
The distance between cities is more than 800 miles. But if you listen to either of the blue-chip basketball prospects, their college futures are tied together.
If you’re confused as to how these two athletes from opposite ends of the country became so close, you’re not alone. Long before Newman first revealed his intentions to be a package deal with Stone in March, plans were already in the works dating back to last June. That’s when they met while playing on USA Basketball’s Under-16 team that won gold in Uruguay.
“Something just clicked with us,” Newman said. “When we played together, we were winning so easily. It was never a struggle for me to score or for him to score.”
On top of that, they were roommates along with Bishop O’Dowd (Calif.) power forward Ivan Rabb, who had to wake Newman and Stone up every morning.
“We’d be laying in our beds getting ready to go to sleep, and the lights would be on or the TV was on and the remote was somewhere on the floor,” Stone said. “We’d have to fight each other to turn it off, and since Malik wasn’t getting up to do it, neither was I. So most times we ended up sleeping with the lights or the TV on.”
That playfulness laid the foundation for a relationship that is making waves through recruiting circles.
The other component of their friendship? Wanting to play in the Final Four.
“We talked about it on the way back from Uruguay, and I thought he was playing at first,” Newman said. “But when people started recruiting us, especially some of the same schools, I found out he was really serious about it and thought, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do.’ “
So began the talk of them being a package deal. It’s an idea that many top recruits talk about, but it rarely happens when the college picks are made.
Recent All-Americans Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are considered the most recent successful package deal. Like Newman and Stone, the two also played on the same USA Basketball team, held several of the same offers and are Duke bound.
But some are skeptical of whether Newman and Stone will follow through.
“There are only a few schools it could happen at,” said Jerry Meyer, the director of basketball recruiting for 247Sports. “I could see it happening at a place like Kansas, Kentucky, maybe UConn, maybe UCLA, but not many other places.”
“I’ve got several different theories on why this happens,” Rivals.com national basketball analyst Eric Bossi said. “For one, kids talk, and they don’t necessarily know what the plans are of each school that may be recruiting them. Oftentimes a kid will get asked ‘Who’s someone you’d like to play with in college?’ And they’ll say ‘I’d like to play with this person.’ It becomes a giant game of telephone and with Twitter and so many places that cover recruiting, it turns into ‘This kid says he wants to package deal with this kid’ when all he said is that he might want to play with that person in college.”
Both Newman and Stone are being recruited heavily by the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, N.C. State and were recently paid in-home visits by UConn head coach Kevin Ollie.
Newman told The Clarion-Ledger that Mississippi State is also one of the schools recruiting him the hardest, which leads to the elephant in the room:
If these two want be a package deal, what happens to Mississippi State, where Newman’s father, Horatio Webster, starred?
“The schools that are only recruiting one of the two are not going to stop recruiting that kid,” Meyer said. “But if this whole thing was really set in stone, why would these schools just recruit one player?”
Webster says he supports his son’s decision but has reiterated that it may not be as likely as the two hope.
“I told (Malik), ‘What if some school already has a point guard or a 2-guard? What if somebody already has a center?’ ” Webster said. “It’s good that they’ve made a bond and want to play together, but it might not happen.”
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or email email@example.com. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.