Although he was intrigued, class of 2023 guard Jakai Newton didn’t know much about Indiana before his official visit to Bloomington last weekend.
Before he left, he had already decided to become IU’s first commit in the high school junior class.
And just a few days after concluding that official visit, Newton announced on Friday afternoon he has verbally committed to IU.
“I really had my mind made up during the visit,” Newton told The Daily Hoosier on Tuesday evening. “My parents said we should go home and talk about it, and we’re ready now.”
It has been a whirlwind for the Covington, Ga., product. Just a week ago he was boarding a plane with his family bound for Indiana with no idea he’d be making this announcement a week later.
“I’m excited as hell,” he said. “It’s crazy to me. Indiana was definitely one of the top schools on my list before the visit, but I didn’t plan on committing when I went up there.”
Indiana wasn’t the first visit Newton took. There were stops at Georgia, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Auburn. But Indiana was the last, and his time in Bloomington really stood out above the rest.
“It just made me feel special, like a part of their family,” he told The Daily Hoosier. “The fans, coaches, players, everybody.”
Although no one knew it at the time, the connections with the IU staff began last fall when then Georgia-based trainer and former high major assistant coach Yasir Rosemond identified Newton as a high major caliber talent on a podcast.
Those podcast comments have come up a couple times since Rosemond joined the IU staff as an assistant coach, and they left an indelible mark on Newton and his parents.
“At the time for me it was very important that somebody was going out of their way to talk about my game, especially at the time because I was just turning 15, so I was still younger than most people, but I thought I played good enough to get some recognition, and he definitely did that,” Newton said.
Despite that connection with Rosemond, there was a time not that long ago when Newton figured he would end up with an SEC school.
“I hate traveling. I love being at home,” he said.
But as the summer progressed, Newton started to focus in on two schools, one SEC, and one an eight hour drive north, far from SEC country. He was paying the most attention to former IU head coach Tom Crean’s Georgia Bulldogs, and then there was just something about Indiana even though it was far from home. His intuition about the Hoosiers proved to be on point, and it was a feeling shared by the entire family. After a few days on campus Newton wasn’t the only family member who felt like they had found a second home.
“My sister didn’t want to leave (Bloomington) at all,” Newton said.
As a sophomore at Newton High School, yes the school of the same name, Newton averaged 11.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field overall including 33 percent from behind the arc. His game and profile really took off this spring playing for the Atlanta Xpress on the Under Armour circuit.
Perhaps best thought of as a combo guard, Newton doesn’t hesitate when asked what NBA player he models his game after — point guard Russell Westbrook. He gave his own self-scout of his game as he enters his junior season of high school basketball.
“My strengths are my physical tools, plus-wingspan, strong body, athletic,” Newton told The Daily Hoosier. “Aside from the physical stuff I’m really good at driving, I can get to my spots, and I can get my shot off too. As far as weaknesses, I just want to be a better student of the game, watch more basketball, be able to read the game better, be a better playmaker and raise my IQ.”
Newton is Indiana’s first commit in the class of 2023, and his energy on the court is transferring off it to the recruiting trail as he embraces the role of leading the effort of building out the rest of the class. Already earlier this week Newton said he was working the phones.
“Actually we are already doing that,” Newton said of his efforts to recruit 2023 classmates. “I am already talking to some other players.”
More Jakai Newton commitment coverage:
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”