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News » Who needs NBA? Just cross the sea

Who needs NBA? Just cross the sea

Who needs NBA? Just cross the sea
Finding Jeff Newton in the summer is easy. Just check the gym.

One night it might be the Adamsville Recreation Center downtown. The next, it might be Adams Park.

Either way, Newton is going to be there, usually running the floor with old friends. Sometimes there's even family and friends in the stands.

"We've been doing it like this every night for so long," Newton said Tuesday after his team won its opening game in the Wallace Prather Jr. Summer Pro Am League at Adamsville. "It's what we all love to do, all these guys. We just get in the gym, play ball and have some fun.

"One day it's pickup games, the next night it's this league. But we do it every day. And I mean every single day."

There is a life to live in Basketball outside of the NBA . Newton, 28, is living proof.

A former high school star at Mays and an All-Big Ten standout at Indiana, he helped guide the Hoosiers to the 2002 Final Four. But Newton's NBA career never took off. He was not drafted and never made it out of training camp with any NBA team. So he packed his bags, grabbed his passport and set off on a global Basketball odyssey determined to find the right fit.

Seven years later, it's clear Newton discovered what he was looking for, albeit halfway around the globe in Okinawa, Japan, where he has become Basketball royalty.

Newton led the Ryukyu Golden Kings to the Japanese League title in May, scoring 50 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in a semifinal game on his way to winning the league MVP award.

"He's like the king over there," Hawks forward Josh Smith said in a corner of the gym as he and Newton packed up after the game. "This is the king of Japan right here."

Newton admitted they "do treat me pretty good over there." He doesn't make the sort of money that many NBA stars bring home, but comfortable six-figure salaries in foreign leagues are not uncommon for players of Newton's caliber.

"Look, there are 15 roster spots on 30 teams in the NBA , so there are only about 450 of those jobs available every year," said Wallace Prather III, Newton's agent and good friend the past two decades. "Jeff was right there on the cusp of making it to the NBA and it just didn't work out.

"He bounced around a little bit, in Europe and whatever, and then found a home in Japan. ... And at the end of the day, that's what it's all about, finding the right fit."

The Prather Pro Am league, which runs three nights a week at Adamsville, was founded and named in honor of Prather's late father, one of the founders of the Atlanta Celtics youth program and a legendary figure of the national grass-roots Basketball movement. NBA stars Smith, Dwight Howard and Hawks reserve center Randolph Morris all played together for the Celtics.

Players from all over, including pros who live in Atlanta during the offseason, have flocked to the two-year-old league. Houston free agent swingman Von Wafer was on the floor Tuesday night, as was Hawks free agent Mario West and former Hawks second-round draft pick Donta Smith. Former Georgia Tech star Anthony McHenry, one of Newton's teammates on that championship team in Japan, also joined the festivities.

"I've played in Bulgaria, China, Australia and Puerto Rico since I left the Hawks," Donta Smith said. "I've got a few stamps on my passport. I probably need a few more pages. For some people, it's a cultural move that is hard to make. Some guys might be scared to adapt to a different situation.

"If I don't get back into the NBA , I don't have a problem playing overseas. Don't get me wrong, for family reasons and a lot of other reasons the NBA always comes first. Your loved ones would be able to see you play and be close to you. But there's a great big world out there for you, if you're willing to take that chance."

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: July 9, 2009


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