Seeing the big picture: Transfer portal was never an option for Purdue's Newman
VALPARAISO – Over 1,400 NCAA Division I men’s basketball players entered the transfer portal after the 2021-22 season.
Pundits expected Purdue sophomore Brandon Newman to be one of them, but the Valparaiso High School graduate never wavered.
“I did a lot of reflecting, self-evaluation, looking inward during that time,” said Newman, who saw his playing time from a productive freshman season cut in half. “There were a lot of highs and lows and those lows were low. Those were probably the only moments I may have had some negative thoughts of, is this really for me? Did I choose the right place? Some of my closest people who know me were trying to say things like that.”
After home games when he didn’t see any court time, Newman often sat quietly in his locker room chair. He would eventually pick himself up and head over to the practice facility to deal with it the only way he knows how – by doubling down on his effort.
“You focus in on the positive things,” Newman told a student audience Wednesday at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. “At times when it’s the most negative, you choose to wake up, put your best foot forward, and look at things from a more positive perspective. I could’ve moped and checked out, felt sorry for myself, but I put my head down, put in the extra work, made sure I knew the scouting report. I was going to be the best cheerleader, the best teammate for the guys on the floor. I took pride in that. You stay the same, whether you’re playing 30 minutes, 15 minutes, scoring 15 points, zero points.”
Newman averaged 8.0 points a game as a freshman, but the emergence of Jaden Ivey as Purdue’s first option and the development of Ethan Morton as a back-up put the squeeze on his floor time.
“A couple things didn’t go my way,” Newman said. “I was on a really good team with a future NBA player, a lottery pick. Ethan started to move into the rotation and see more minutes. He played that role really well. I was happy for him. I tried to stay as present in the moment as I could, knowing how good we could be. As minutes start to dwindle, you might be hearing certain things from coaches. I think (confidence) played a role. It’s huge. It’s hard to perform in two-minute spans. You get a sweat going, then you’re coming out. It’s hard to be effective.”
Even so, Newman managed to keep grinding. He gave the Boilermakers a desperately needed spark in a Big Ten tournament game against Penn State, scoring 12 points in 20 minutes to help Purdue overcome an early 10-point deficit.
“I thought the Penn State game was so cool, to see him come in and impact the game,” said Robbie Hummel, who did the broadcast on the Big Ten Network. “It just shows you he had stayed ready. One thing that stinks about a really deep roster, there are a lot of good players. That was a really talented team. A lot of guys would say, well, I’m not playing, I’m not going to work on my game, I’m not going to lift extra. He’d clearly gone above and beyond and did what he needed to do to be ready for that moment. He earned a spot at the end of the year. He was playing in important games.”
A season that saw Purdue win 29 games, earn the No. 1 ranking for one week and remain in the top 10 from start to finish ended with a thud in a loss to Cinderella Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16. The tourney upset was the second in as many years for the Boilermakers as one of the program’s best chances to end a Final Four drought dating back to 1980 culminated in more disappointment.
“Throughout the year, I thought we had a legitimate chance to win the national championship,” Newman said. “We came away with nothing to show for it. We don’t have any hardware, any jewelry. Every time you walk in the locker room, you can see all the Big Ten champions who came before us. You want your picture to be there for the rest of your life. On paper, we were supposed to win that game. The team that played the best won. Saint Peter’s will have my respect for the rest of my life.”
With the season over, Newman turned his attentions to his own future, but ultimately there wasn’t all that much debate for him.
“During the season, those aren’t the things to give your attention to,” he said. “Whether you’re playing or not, you’re still on a team that’s top five, top three in the country. From this point on, it’s what can you do to get better? What good things can you focus on? I think I’m old enough, mature enough to know the coaches want me to do well. Part of that falls on me. (Coach Matt Painter)’s an honest guy. That’s what I love about him. I have nothing but respect for him. They’re not against me. They’re on my side. We’re all representing Purdue.”
In the era of players jumping for the money and moving from school to school, Newman and his decision to stay are a refreshing throwback.
“When I committed my senior year, I wanted to get a degree from Purdue,” Newman said.
In December, Newman will receive a Bachelor’s diploma in Organizational Leadership.
“Everybody talks about NIL (Name, Image, Likeness), that’s a part of it, but Brandon’s a great example of someone who’s gone in there and handled his business academically,” Hummel said. “He will come out of Purdue with a degree and maybe even a Master’s, which is amazing. A lot of guys in that situation would have said they’re going to transfer. You get beat out for a spot. The fact that he was always congratulating teammates on the sidelines, that’s hard to do. Everybody want so to do well themselves. I’m really proud of Brandon for sticking it out and seeing a bigger picture.”
The graduation of a large senior class, Eric Hunter’s transfer to Butler and Ivey’s jump to the NBA leaves Purdue with a wide open backcourt. Minutes are there for Newman’s taking.
“He has a heck of an opportunity,” Hummel said. “I know he’s going to work hard. He always has. To have the type of year he wants to have is right there in front of him, which is all you want as a player. I think it’s going to pay off for him. People who work hard, do the right things, it does, and I think he’s about that.”
As Newman anticipates what lies ahead, he’s actually appreciative of the struggle he’s gone through.
“I can’t be more grateful for it. I wouldn’t be the person, the player I am,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things to take away from last year. It’s not something to just throw under the rug. I don’t know what’s in store, but I’m going to work like I’ve never worked before just so I’m ready mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally to be able to handle that grind. It only ramps up as it goes on. I’m excited. It’s right about that time for me.”
As part of his off-season, Newman and Morton will travel to Spain in August with USA East Coast Basketball. While Purdue returns experience and talent in the front court, the question marks in the backcourt remain.
“This group was ultra-talented, but there are a few areas we’ll be better at,” Newman said. “We still have guys who have been in big games, played and started. All we’re looking to do is be leaders for those guys coming in behind us, the rest of the freshmen who haven’t played college ball and have no idea how it works. Though this team will be completely different, there are a lot of ways from a leadership standpoint where we can get better. I think we can be closer as a group, on and off the court.”
As Newman addressed students in a gym where he once played, he talked about surrounding yourself with good people, finding a goal to accomplish, whether it’s academic, athletic or elsewhere, and sticking to it.
“It’s all coming full circle, walking the halls here. It’s crazy,” Newman said. “Coming from a one-parent household, my mom had to struggle to do certain things. I’m still young, but I’ve been through a couple things. It’s shows the true character of how you are as a person. You put your mind to anything, you’ll be able to do it.”
Robbie Hummel and Brandon Newman, pictured with Thomas Jefferson Middle School principal Mark Maudlin, spoke Wednesday at the school on the subject of dealing with adversity. Hummel and Newman both attended the school, as well as Valparaiso High School. Hummel, a basketball broadcaster with ESPN and the Big Ten Network, graduated from Purdue, while Newman is going into his junior year there.