OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Malik Newman certainly didn’t envision the magnificent postseason he’s been enjoying back in December and January when he was struggling with his shot, never mind adjusting to playing for a demanding coach like Kansas’ Bill Self.
Even before that, there was the injury-plagued freshman year at Mississippi State, the entering and pulling out of the NBA draft and finally the transfer to Kansas.
How much is he enjoying basketball right about now?
“All-time high,” he said Saturday on the eve of the top-seeded Jayhawks’ game against 2-seed Duke in the Midwest Region final. “I’m in the NCAA Tournament, tomorrow I’ll be playing an Elite Eight game. Right now it’s everything I can ask for. I feel I’m in a fantasy right now. But I know this is real life. It’s everything I ever asked for as a kid.”
Newman had a team-high 17 points in the 80-76 win over Clemson in Friday night’s regional semifinal. That followed a 28-point performance against Seton Hall in the second round. The sophomore guard is the Jayhawks’ leading tournament scorer with 18.3 points per game.
All this has happened after he averaged 24 points and made 15 3-pointers in the Jayhawks’ three-game Big 12 Tournament title run — an effort that earned him most outstanding player.
“When you have a free mind, I think you tend to shoot better, you tend to move faster, play better,” Newman said.
Newman, by most standards, had a fine first regular season for the Jayhawks. He averaged 12.4 points and was the Big 12 newcomer of the year.
There was an expectation the Jayhawks would get more out of him, given his credentials as a 2015 McDonald’s All-American and a guy who entered the 2016 NBA draft, only to decide to return to school as allowed by rules if he didn’t hire an agent. The decision to withdraw from the draft stemmed from his being projected as a second-round pick.
But instead of going back to Mississippi State, where he averaged 11.3 points while battling a number of health issues, he enrolled at Kansas and sat out last season under transfer rules.
Devonte Graham said he’s not surprised it took some time for Newman to break through.
“You go through that hump, or whatever it is, just trying to learn the system, learn how Coach wants you to play, and you’ve got to learn how to pick and choose when you shoot the ball and things like that. You get to learn how to play with guys,” Graham said.
“So he didn’t get to play with us last year. He was always on the red (scout) team and playing with the walk-ons a lot. He just had to get that chemistry. But ever since then he’s been great and playing hard and knocking down shots.”
Newman was all but invisible in December games against Syracuse and Nebraska. Then the game after he scored 1 point and was limited to 15 minutes because of foul trouble against TCU, he went off for 27 points and made five 3-pointers against Iowa State. A couple weeks later he scored 24 against Baylor, starting a stretch of his scoring in double figures in 10 of 11 games.
“The other guards on the team, they did a good job of rallying around me and holding up my weight while I was struggling,” he said.
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