It didn’t take long for Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman to realize he was considered a big deal at his new school — the University of Kansas.
“My first day on campus, so many people already were recognizing who I was. I was, ‘Wow, I’m here and they’re already excited about it. They have to wait two years to see me play,’” sophomore combo guard Newman said while seated at a table with KU teammates Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk at Tuesday’s Big 12 Media Day at the Sprint Center.
Newman, a 6-foot-3 native of Jackson, Miss., who was a top-10 player in the 2015 recruiting class, moved to KU after his freshman season.
He practiced but could not play in games last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. Still his presence caused a buzz around campus, making Newman quickly realize he was in basketball country, not SEC football country, anymore.
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“The craziest thing,” Newman said, “is one day it was raining or snowing and I tweeted, ‘I need a ride to class. If you see me out and want to give me a ride, feel free.’
“As soon as I walked out of the mansion (McCarthy Hall), a guy was like, ‘Malik. I saw you need a ride. I got you.’ I hopped in and he got me to class on time. He was cool. He introduced himself. His name was John. He told me he was excited for the season and excited for when I get a chance to play.”
The time for Newman to play at KU is now.
He scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and had five assists in Sunday’s 93-87 exhibition victory over Missouri at the Sprint Center.
“It seemed like forever,” Newman said of the long wait between games.
The outgoing Newman, who spoke with reporters for a full hour Tuesday, was happy to share he didn’t suffer from cramps against Mizzou. Apparently cramping has been a problem since high school and has required him to keep packets of mustard on the bench during games.
That’s plain mustard … no hot dogs in sight.
The first time it happened at Mississippi’s Callaway High School, Newman said: “I had the biggest knot in my stomach right in here. I told ‘em, ‘Go get me some mustard and I’ll be good. They went and got the mustard. Eventually I was good.
“I did it almost every game. Right before layup line I’d eat two packs of mustard and drink some pickle juice. At halftime I’d drink pickle juice and eat one pack of mustard. I’d take my time with it. Through the second half they’d have mustard on the bench for me. I’d go eat it. It doesn’t taste like anything anymore; I ate it so much. I just know it could help me. I don’t eat it as much as I used to. I’m kind of tired of it.”
Newman, showing his personality at Media Day, told other tales, including one in which he related buying his favorite “Donut Sticks” only to have Graham swipe them and store them in his own room — far away from a hungry Newman.
“I love the kid,” KU coach Bill Self said of Newman, adding this caveat: “From my standpoint he is not near as aggressive and doesn’t have the swagger yet that I thought he had when we recruited him out of high school. That’s what I want him to get back to.
“He went through last year attacking every day to try to get better. I still think there’s another big step he can take.”
Newman was one of eight scholarship players to play in Sunday’s exhibition against Missouri. It led Self, during a more serious portion of Media Day, to answer, “a lot,” when asked what level of concern he has about team depth.
“I’m primarily concerned inside,” Self said. “If an injury or major foul problems can obviously put you behind the 8-ball not only for one game but the long term. This year I’m not sure we could sustain another injury like that (Udoka Azubuike tearing ligaments in wrist last season) and still have a chance to have a great season. Eight is plenty when you are healthy but whenever injuries start occurring or peak guys start wearing down, it’s a concern.”
The lack of depth hasn’t affected practice.
“We still beat on each other every day,” Graham said.
KU will add a ninth scholarship player after first semester in Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe.
“I don’t worry about playing our guys too many minutes on the perimeter at all,” Self said. “I just worry about the foul situations.”
Other comments from Self
▪ Self on the chance sophomore center Udoka Azubuike turns pro after the season: “I hope it is his last year, if he can go and be guaranteed to be a first-round pick, which I think right now if you look at the (draft) boards he is not on the boards right now. If he can get to that point then I think he should consider going, but if he can’t get to that point I don’t think there’s any question he should return. I think personally he’s good enough to get to that point.”
▪ Mykhailiuk said he lost 20 pounds since last season. Self said it was because Mykhailiuk was sick during the summer in Ukraine. “He looks much more athletic to us,” Self said.
▪ On junior guard Lagerald Vick: “He and Svi have to be better rebounders. They are big and athletic guards, tough enough to get in there and battle. I don’t think he (Vick) goes like he should go. He has potential to be a much better rebounder.”
▪ On freshman forward Billy Preston: “He has to develop habits. His habits are not the best right now. He’s maybe (going hard) one out of three (possessions) or one out of four right now. If we can get it up to one out of two the next couple weeks then two out of three a couple weeks after that I think we’ll have made some improvement.”
▪ On Preston’s 12 points against Missouri. “He got exposed some too. When you don’t hit somebody on a block out and a guy dunks it on your head, too … I think he did well. It was a first step, but a baby step.”
▪ And on whether KU has been contacted by the FBI regarding the scandal involving college basketball: “Not to my knowledge, no. Not at all. Surely I would know if we have, but no.”