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Tech's Charles Newton bridging basketball and belief abroad

Member of the Golden Eagle men's basketball team

By Kate Nicewicz
TTU Sports Information Assistant

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- How do you begin a story about a student-athlete traveling to East Asia to play competitive collegiate basketball and partake in a cross-continental, religious cultural exchange?

The difficulty of the question is a testament to the unconventional and personally unique nature of Charles Newton’s plans for the next few weeks, and the story behind them.

Just following the end of the 2010 spring semester at Tennessee Tech University, Newton – known affectionately by most as “Newt” – will participate in a Reach USA program through Sports Reach, a Christian ministry that bridges the gap between basketball and belief.  The ministry, founded in 1986 by Robby Spear and Larry Pursiful, uses the sports world as an avenue to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with vast network of practicing and non-practicing Christians of all cultures.

Reach USA is open to young, Christian men “who are playing college basketball [and] want to use their talents in basketball to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”  Athletes from colleges and universities throughout Kentucky and surrounding states will come together for a ten-day trip structured around the paradigm of melding competitive basketball with cultural exchange and the glorification of God and one’s beliefs in a new country.  Since its inception, Reach USA has visited 16 different countries on five continents.

This year’s venue is China, and Newt will join a new team of college basketball players whom he has never met before for the experience of a lifetime overseas.  Under the coaching eye of former Kentucky all-American and NBA player Kyle Macy, the team will play six to seven games against other university and B pro teams.

Born and raised in downtown Lexington, Ky., Newt and his talents on the court are well known throughout his hometown where, he says, “if you don’t like basketball or horses, you gotta get out.”

Naturally, Newton would be recognized in Lexington where, as a senior, team captain and team MVP at Lexington Catholic High School, he lead his team in steals and assists and fueled the way to a district championship and the regional semi-finals.  He was also named district tournament MVP and honored as a member of the regional tournament first-team.

Following a stellar high school career Newton, who red-shirted with the Golden Eagles in the 2008-2009 season, played pickup ball at the University of Kentucky, which is where Robby Spear first recognized his talent on the court and potential to play a vital role in future Reach USA endeavors.

Knowing something of Newt’s personality spiritually, Spear approached Newton’s father with the prospect of Charles traveling with Reach USA.  The opportunity to play competitive basketball overseas while exploring enlightenment and developing spiritually was, in the eyes of the Newton’s, one that was too great to pass up.

In fact, the chance to play ball in a new capacity and context may have been more of a “no-brainer” than an actual opportunity to “consider.”

“I’m a Newton, it’s in our blood, that’s what we do,” said Newt markedly, who had a basketball in his hands when he was barely able to crawl.  “Daddy Newt made sure of that,” he laughed.

While basketball has been a part of Newt’s life for as long as he can remember, he’s just recently become more avidly active spiritually.

“A few months ago, I had certain situations in my life where I didn’t act the way I should have,” admitted Newton.  “[At that point] I just noticed [that] my life wasn’t really going well.”

However, positive influences from his family and closest friends urged Newt in a different direction.  “My family came together at the perfect time,” said Newt, who also credits much of his spiritual inspiration to Tech teammate Riley Hunley.

Newt’s family members are undoubtedly his biggest fans, especially as he is preparing to embark on his trip to Asia.

“Daddy Newt, my sister, my mother, my little brother, Elijah Muhammad, Riley Hunley, JP Blevins, Jim Mayhen, Mr. Barnette,” Newt ticks off thoughtfully, when asked of his biggest supporters.  And when questioned about what their support means to him on a daily basis, he answered without a split-second of hesitation.

“Everything.  Some of them aren’t my blood family, but they’re my family.  They mean the world to me.”

Newt has a few simple expectations for his journey to China, the first being, most obviously, to move through different stages of spiritual development.  “To grow as an individual, faith wise, and to spread the word,” he emphasizes.  “Also, to have fun and play basketball,” he adds as an afterthought.

The most rewarding part of the trip, he believes, will come in the form of being active in the community.  “Making bonds and meeting new people” is something that Newt is definitely looking forward to.  While he won’t meet his new teammates in person until the trip commences, Newt’s proactive personality as a natural leader has led him to reach out to several of them already to try to build a cohesive unit early.

Newton already knows that he’ll stay active in Reach USA after his trip this May.  While he is only a sophomore on the court at Tech and a junior in the classroom, credit-wise he is considered a senior.  He plans to spend the remainder of his summer in Lexington, taking summer classes in effort to graduate early.  Post-graduation, he will continue to pursue his dream of coaching and giving back to the basketball community that has offered him so much throughout his life.

“My role will change from player to coach, but I want to give back,” he says fervently.  And, with his drive, determination, positive attitude, and unwavering support from those around him, it is likely that Newt will encounter little that will get in the way of his goals.