Jakai Newton commits to IU basketball as Mike Woodson continues to revamp backcourt

Zach Osterman
Indianapolis Star

BLOOMINGTON – His 2022 recruiting class already substantially fleshed out, IU basketball coach Mike Woodson got started on 2023 Friday afternoon.

Jakai Newton, a four-star combo guard from Covington (Ga.) Newton, announced his commitment to Indiana during a live-streamed ceremony, handing Woodson a recruiting win to end the week. 

In picking the Hoosiers over Georgia, Vanderbilt and a host of other high-major schools — most of them based in the southeast — Newton becomes Woodson’s first commit in the current junior class. 

“They first offered me back in July,” Newton told IndyStar. “Ever since then I’ve been excited about them. They’ve been pretty much at the top of my list ever since.”

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The second Georgia-based prospect in as many classes to commit to IU (joining 2022 forward Kaleb Banks), Newton’s longstanding relationship with assistant coach Yasir Rosemond played a significant role in his commitment. 

Jakai Newton (right) posing with IU coach Mike Woodson during a campus visit.

Newton worked with Rosemond before Rosemond was hired at Indiana, and Rosemond helped Newton grow his profile as a college recruit early in his high school career. 

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“Relationships were a big part of it. I’m really cool with coach Ya, and talking to coach Woodson, he cares about his players,” Newton said. “(Rosemond) mentioned me last year when I was 15 and he didn’t have any offers. At the time, he didn’t have the job at Indiana. Knowing he was the one that offered me, him being from Georgia, that’s how this relationship started.”

From there, Woodson’s reputation and the relationship Newton built with a man who once coached his hometown Atlanta Hawks strengthened Indiana’s position. 

During a junior-year official visit last weekend, Newton got a chance to sit down with Woodson, and to observe how Woodson’s staff interacted as a whole group. 

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“It was just icing on the cake,” Newton said. 

In one-on-one conversations with Woodson, Newton said IU’s coach emphasized the importance of a strong backcourt in his scheme. 

The No. 12 combo guard in the country per the 247Sports Composite, Newton ensures Woodson long-term depth and health in that backcourt. 

“Knowing his experience, his style, the guys he’s coached, he’s a real great coach,” Newton said in an interview with IndyStar earlier this week, recapping his visit. “He told me I fit their style of play perfectly. They get out and run. Anybody can handle the ball.”

That same ranking rates Newton the No. 67 player in his class, and the No. 4 player in 2023 from the state of Georgia. 

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In addition to his three finalists, Newton reported offers from schools including Auburn, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Cincinnati and Xavier. 

He’s the fourth guard in three classes to commit (or reaffirm his commitment) since Woodson moved into the head coach’s office on the north side of Cook Hall. The Hoosiers signed Tamar Bates in 2021, and has Jalen Hood-Schifino and C.J. Gunn committed in 2022. 

For a program that has battled guard depth in recent seasons, Woodson’s emphasis on that area of his roster will be a welcome development. Newton’s commitment in 2023 begins the process of future proofing that rotation for the foreseeable future.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.