His accolades are numerous: the only high school player in Mississippi history to win four consecutive state championships, a two-time gold medalist and MVP with USA Basketball, and the consensus No. 1 player in country as a junior.
On Friday, Malik Newman added another accomplishment to his lengthy resume. The Callaway star became the highest-rated player to sign, commit and play for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Newman’s recruitment was a long, drawn-out process that lasted for more than two years. The five-star guard held offers from dozens of schools; the final six included Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State,North Carolina State and Ole Miss.
After weeks of deliberating, the 6-foot-4 guard decided to stay home.
“It just kept popping up on my mind,” Newman said. “It was Mississippi State, Mississippi State, Mississippi State. I just thought God placed everything in place for me and I thought that’s the place I needed to be.”
His father, Horatio Webster – a former Mississippi State forward in the late 90s – was more surprised with his son’s decision.
“I never thought he would choose Mississippi State. Not in a million years,” Webster said. “I never thought that he would play somewhat in his daddy’s shadow. I just thought he would go in a different direction.”
Nearly every blue blood program lobbied for his talents. Newman also had the option to take his skills overseas. Instead, the top-ranked guard’s choice to stay in state boiled down to several factors, most notably MSU’s hiring of Ben Howland.
Howland’s pedigree of putting 18 former players into the NBA intrigued Newman at a time when the Bulldogs were seemingly out of the Newman sweepstakes.
Howland preached how he could help Newman reach his goal during his first in-home visit on March 26, which grabbed the guard’s attention.
“He got a chair from the kitchen and set it right in front of Malik,” Webster said. “He didn’t sit on the other side of the room. He was face-to-face with Malik. That was different.”
Added Newman: “I felt his passion and love about the game. I admire some of the guards he’s coached and I feel if he can do those things for those guys, he can do the same for me.”
Projected as a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Newman’s goal was to find a program that would help him prepare for professional basketball.
That starts with molding the combo guard into a true point guard.
“He basically told me that it’s on me. He can’t make anyone draft me,” Newman said. “He told me he’ll be there to give me the right things to do, break down film so I can be a better student of the game and a better player. Pushing me on and off the court and making me do the things I need to do so I can be a one-and done.”
The first-team all-state selection averaged 29.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists his senior year at Callaway. That production follows Newman to Starkville where he joins a veteran team and Craig Sword in the backcourt.
Being the youngest starter on a SEC team doesn’t intimidate Newman. In fact, the guard believes it will allow him to play his game more freely.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’m going to get double-teamed a lot,” he said. “I think the guys can actually play and I wouldn’t have chosen the school if I didn’t think that. With me, I think that will take a lot of pressure off of them to be able to play their game and not worry about making their mistakes.”
Newman joins a 2015 class that features top-150 player Quinndary Weatherspoon (Velma Jackson) and Carver (Ala.) power forward Joe Strugg.
Howland’s reputation of riding his guards precedes him. Newman won’t shy away from the challenge.
“I know some practices he and I may not see eye to eye. That’s part of the process of trying to accomplish my dream,” Newman said. “At the end of the day, he knows what he’s doing. He’s put players in the league. He has the blueprint and right now I’m just trying to draw what he’s telling me to do.”
The Callaway stand out made history at the high school level in Mississippi and aims to continue that trend at the college level.
During his father’s days at Mississippi State, Webster was referred to as “The Big Train.”
This summer, Newman will begin to pave his own path towards helping lead Mississippi State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
That road begins freshly paved with Newman in Starkville and creating his own identity.
“No, no ‘Little Train,'” Newman joked. “Me and him already talked about it. Noting like that. They have to give me my own nickname. Maybe we can keep ‘The Machine,’ can we do that?
“Actually, a train is a machine, so he still has to work for me.”