If your history grade needs a little boost and Jeff Newby is your teacher, now would be the time to ask about it. He has every reason to be in a good mood.
Personally, Newby became a father on Jan 5 with the birth or his daughter Allison. Professionally, he was named Outstanding High School Teacher in Montgomery County and earned National Teacher Certification. On the court, he earned a promotion to head varsity basketball coach after six years with junior varsity teams at Blair and Walter Johnson high schools.
He has proved adept at his new job. The Blazers, 15-9 last season, have raced out to a 16-3 start and a number 20 ranking in The Washington Post. This is the first year that the Post has ranked the Blazers since 1993. The team went on a 12-game winning streak, and they sit atop the division standings.
Perhaps the biggest change from last season to this one is the shift in the Blazers' offensive style. Last year, Blair relied on power forward Uche Iwugo and center Darrell Smith to score points in the post. When they graduated, Blair was left without a player taller than 6'2". To compensate, Newby instituted a new offense built around the fast break and jump-shooting rather than pounding the ball down low.
The transition has been a success. Blair is one of the quickest teams in the county, and the Blazers have used their speed to get countless easy baskets in transition. The team has also been very effective shooting mid-range jump shots. Senior Ellis Yeadon, in particular, has cemented his reputation as one of the county's top shooters.
"The guys that we had returning were all good athletes and were all very quick, but they were mostly guards. We didn't have a true center, and we barely had any forwards. The way we were going to be successful against bigger teams was to push the ball," says Newby.
It is a typical coaching tactic to call a timeout when things are going badly, but Newby has rarely stopped play this season. Instead, he relies on his senior-laden team to work through tough stretches in the game. More often than not, the Blazers have validated their coach's trust.
Never was this more evident than the Jan 13 game against Springbrook High School . The Blue Devils streaked out to a 9-1 lead in the game's opening minutes. Rather than huddle his team and tell them to stay calm, Newby stayed calm himself and let play go on. By the end of the first quarter, Springbrook's lead had been cut to one point. When the buzzer sounded for halftime, the Blazers led 31-25 and were on their way to a 53-52 win.
Newby explains that his trust in his players comes from his familiarity with them. Before taking over as varsity coach, Newby spent three years with the JV squad. "I know the guys on the team well. I have coached some of them for two or three years, so I have confidence that if we don't panic, we get through some tough situations," he says.
Most high school clubs rely heavily on one or two players and rarely play many of the reserves. Newby, however, has made a point this season to use his whole bench. The team typically runs ten deep, and some games have even seen all 15 Blazers appear. "That's part of the team philosophy. Not one person is going to carry us night in and night out. It's a different guy each game," says Newby.
Newby's emphasis on the team rather than individual stars comes from his experience as a starting forward for the 1987 Walter Johnson High School basketball team that won the state championship. The previous year, the team had the county's leading scorer and an 8-14 record. When their superstar graduated, most people thought the Wildcats would struggle. Instead, they used contributions from several players, including Newby, and went 22-6.
"Not one guy carried that team," Newby says. "It made me realize that playing together and as a team is the key to winning."
Life is certainly treating Jeff Newby well. A new daughter, a shiny award and a first- place basketball team are quite a lot to pack into these past few months.
Newby himself would be modest and call himself lucky; others would say that these are the fruits of his hard work. Social studies colleague James Mogge, however, has a different explanation. "Everything he touches turns to gold," he says.
Liam Bowen. Liam Bowen has loved sports, baseball in particular, since he saw Jeff Ballard pitch for the Orioles in the late-80s. When he isn't on the beat, Bowen ties up his daytimes with his misguided and entirely unrealistic dream to play some sort of advanced baseball … More »