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'Ready for a stage like this': After move to UConn, Burges' Newton plays in Final Four

HOUSTON — Despite a standout career at Burges, and an older brother already playing Division I basketball, Tristen Newton was not highly recruited out of high school.

But within minutes of putting his name into the transfer portal last year, after a coaching change at East Carolina, his phone was ringing.

And ringing.

And ringing.

Newton said he heard from more than 30 schools in 12 hours after his stellar third season at ECU where he averaged 17.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists a game.

“I went to the compliance office,” Newton said. “I walked down two flights of stairs and got my first phone call. It was from Wichita State. That was 11 a.m. My last call was 11:30 p.m. It was like that all day. That is why I wanted to make my decision quick, and I am glad I picked UConn. It was the best decision for me.”

That decision to move from the Pirates’ program after an all-conference season and 1,000 career points was the first step in what has become an historic season for Newton and UConn, helping the storied program return to the Final Four, where they face Miami in the national semifinals at NRG Stadium.

UConn guard Tristen Newton (2) shoots while defended by Gonzaga guard Rasir Bolton in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the West Region final of the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
UConn guard Tristen Newton (2) shoots while defended by Gonzaga guard Rasir Bolton in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the West Region final of the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Huskies head coach Dan Hurley was the first to actually FaceTime with Newton, and while some schools didn’t seem to know much about the former Mustangs star, UConn looked like a perfect fit.

“A lot of teams wanted me to come off staggers and shoot — that is not really my game,” Newton said. “Some people just saw my stats and called. At UConn I knew having key pieces around me, it would be a perfect fit. I knew my game and I saw their film. I knew it would be perfect.”

Newton was prophetic and the senior star became the first in UConn’s rich history to post two triple-doubles in one season, averaging 9.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game.

Hurley said he knew he had to address flaws in the roster construction and knew what he had to do within days of their season-ending loss to New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Newton was one of those pieces.

Ironically, playing big time college basketball was never the goal for Newton, it was simply being better than his brother Juwaun, who played at Southern Illinois after beginning his career at Evansville.

The two played three years together at Burges, taking the Mustangs as far as the regional final.

“I always wanted to be better than him and he wanted to be better than me my whole life,” Newton said. “I was never pushing for a Division I offer. I was just trying to be better than him. He is a big part of who I am today.”

Newton said that he thinks star high school athletes in El Paso are sometimes overlooked pointing to his brother and KJ Lewis, the former Chapin star who has signed with Arizona.

That does not even include his cousin Aaron Jones, the former UTEP star and current Green Bay Packers running back and his twin brother Alvin, who both shined for the Miners.

“I feel El Paso is overlooked,” Newton said. “People don’t think about Fort Bliss. People from all over the world are there. I was born in Florida, but I ended up in El Paso. There are players there. KJ Lewis is going to Arizona. There have been great people come from there. If you look there are a lot of talented players from there.”

But Newton had to be humbled early in the path that took him to NRG Stadium and the Final Four.

As a freshman he came off the bench for the first time in his life, which was followed by struggles during the COVID-19 season of 2020-21.

Newton admitted he needed that to push him to work hard and ultimately gain the confidence he could compete at the highest levels.

“I had to be humble and figure out that I wasn’t good enough and wasn’t ready,” Newton said. “Coach (Joe Dooley) pushed me a lot. COVID year was a down year, and I lost a lot of confidence. My last year, coach Dooley put a lot of faith in me, and I went out and performed really well. That is when I got my most confidence.

“I knew I was ready for a stage like this.”

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: After move to UConn, Burges' Tristen Newton set to play in Final Four