Chelsea Newton – Rutgers

“When I came in,” said Chelsea Newton of her first season at Rutgers, “I thought I was ready. I wasn’t coming in thinking I knew everything – I knew I was ready for Coach (C. Vivian) Stringer.”

“In actuality,” she ruefully admitted, “I wasn’t.”

Though a superb academic student, Newton and her fellow freshmen were overwhelmed by how difficult it was to learn the heart and soul of Stringer’s system: defense. “You have to understand angles, when to go, when not to go, how to talk, how to read offense,” said the Louisiana native. “And then, offensively….” She paused, and then laughed. “You have to know MILLIONS of plays.”

“It was more than I would ever have imagined.”

As a result, the young, undersized and undermanned Scarlet Knights finished the 2001-2 season an uncharacteristic 9-20.

“When we watch tapes from last year, everybody just puts their heads down,” said the 5’11” guard. “Last year? We’re just happy it’s last year.”

Happily this season has been a different story. With the rededication of returning players (Newton and teammate Mauri Horton both lost 20lbs), and the addition of pre-season Big East Newcomer of the Year Cappie Pondexter and Purdue transfer Shalicia Hurns, Rutgers has returned as a team to be reckoned with.

Stringer’s traditionally methodical offense has been modified in order to take advantage of a lightening quick team. As a result, Rutgers is racking up lots of points and some impressive wins.

“She noticed that we like to run,” said Newton with a grin. “She’s letting us play.”

Clearly Stringer has confidence in the 20-year-old: Newton has logged 33.2 minutes per game while averaging 11.3 points, 5 rebounds, 2.6 assists. And, despite her youth, Stringer also expects Newton to provide on-court leadership. “She looks to me for intensity,” explained Newton. “That’s my job.”

That pollsters have been slow to recognize Rutgers’ improvement doesn’t worry the sophomore. “A lot of people think we’re the same 9-20 team we were last year,” she acknowledged. “We have to prove ourselves each game. Play hard, and eventually people will notice.”

Certainly the fans have noticed. Whereas last season they only could offer, “Better luck next time,” they now say, “You all played great.”

“That,” said Newton, “is the best feeling.”

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