But what about the mental side of the game? A question still unanswered.
Newby signed with Ole Miss in November of 2011. He enrolled in school the following summer, and his physical abilities immediately translated in practice. Kennedy has described Newby as one of the team’s best on-ball defenders.
Even so, his numbers through nine games aren’t much to look at. He’s averaging just 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, and was suspended for one game, against Rutgers, due to a coach’s decision. He sat out against Loyola Marymount on Wednesday after twisting his ankle in pregame warm-ups.
“I knew, physically, when he walked on campus, he was going to be ready to play an SEC basketball game,” Kennedy said. “He’s got lateral quickness, he’s got toughness, he’s got instincts for the ball.”
Kennedy had held off in setting Newby loose. He has his reasons, not the least of which is Newby's slow acclimation to strategy and scheme, two work-in-progress areas.
Unlike in high school, when he averaged 23.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.4 steals as a senior for Booker T. Washington in Memphis, Tenn., the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Newby is a role player now.
“I think, right now, all of our freshmen … they’re all trying to come in and do what they’ve always done and that is to make plays offensively,” Kennedy said. “I’m trying to get them to understand to slow down offensively, be solid defensively, make good plays for our team and let the offense come.
“I think Newby struggles with that at times. They’re all trying to play too fast.”
Buying in to the team concept can be difficult for a newcomer. Not Newby, though trying to mold his game into what Ole Miss (8-1) needs has proven difficult.
“Some newcomers, like me and Anthony (Perez), we bring a lot to the table,” Newby said. “We know as freshmen, we all have to play our role. We’re learning from the upperclassmen, and as we get in, we do our role.”
His role -- that is, when he plays -- is that of shutdown defender and offensive sparkplug. He’s at his best when driving the lane and scoring points off of offensive rebounds.
Newby was given his most extensive playing time in the Rebels’ 91-45 win over Lipscomb. He filled the stat sheet, finishing with seven points, six steals and three rebounds.
He’s averaging 14.0 minutes per game off the bench.
“I think I’m doing good so far,” Newby said after the game. “Right now, I’m just coming in, playing my role and trying to earn minutes. I see coach playing me more. As I see that, I just execute in practice and work hard every day. I’m just going hard.”
Ole Miss is in Honolulu, Hawaii, for the Diamond Head Classic. The Rebels, playing three games in four days, will face Indiana State (5-3) at 3 p.m. CST on Saturday. Should the Rebels advance, they would face the winner of San Diego State-San Francisco.
Also among the participating teams are Arizona, Miami (Fla.) and East Tennessee State, who Ole Miss defeated earlier this season. In all, Ole Miss is a combined 9-5 all-time vs. the tournament field.
“It’s going to be different,” Kennedy said. “But I like these trips because typically it’s a great bonding experience for your team. These tournament settings, where you’re playing three games in four days, it’s intense basketball over a short period of time. I think you can learn a lot of things about your group.”
That includes Newby, described by Kennedy as Murphy Holloway in a guard’s body.
“I think he’s getting better and better and better,” Kennedy said. “Anyone can tell when he comes into a game, he brings an energy, a toughness, he brings a quickness that we don’t have in that position.
“For him, it’s just a matter of him not trying to do too much too quickly, most especially offensively. Before we can put him in a role where we’re really trusting of him to defend other people’s leading scorers, he’s got to not only bring the physical aspect, but the mental aspect has to improve. He’s certainly still a work in progress, but he’s a kid that has tremendous upside, and I think he’s going to really help this team this season.”