Soul of RVA: How former University of Richmond basketball standout, NBA star Johnny Newman is impacting local youth

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — If you ask Johnny Newman what his favorite shot on the basketball court is, chances are he’ll tell you “all of them.”

“I’m a scorer. I like to finish at the basket, and I like to mix it up,” Newman told 8News.

The 6’7″ retired basketball player had storied basketball careers both at the University of Richmond and on National Basketball Association (NBA) teams across the country; however, his story begins in a small city just southwest of Richmond — Danville.

Photo: 8News Reporter Autumn Childress

“Being from Danville, which is a great city, there wasn’t a lot to do,” recalled Newman. “You’re either working in tobacco or the textile market … and I didn’t want to do either of those.”

Instead, Newman set his sights on basketball, the sport he had fallen in love with in elementary school. By the 10th grade, the versatile guard and small forward had already gotten the attention of several college coaches — including at the University of Richmond. After raising his own money to attend campus and convincing his father to allow him to pursue basketball, the high schooler locked in on the Spiders’ program.

“I just kept working, working, and working,” he said. “And eventually I made it to the University of Richmond, and I’m so glad I did.”

Newman stepped onto the court — making a difference immediately. During his sophomore year in 1984, he led his team to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, knocking out fifth-seeded Auburn in the first round. Two years later, Newman led the Spiders’ to the tournament again. While the team fell in the first round, Newman’s iconic career had already been set in stone.

In four years, he shattered the all-time leading scoring record for U of R with 2, 383 points, shot 52% from the field and was an 80% free throw shooter. It’s a stat line that would lead Newman right into the NBA.

“I was strong, determined, and at that time, I could jump to the moon and shoot the long-range, so I was ready and prepared,” Newman said. With that, he was picked 29th overall in the 1986 draft, beginning a 16-year stint as a pro basketball player.

His career would take him to Cleveland, New York, Dallas, Charlotte, New Jersey, Milwaukee and Denver.

“The biggest challenge … the competition,” he said. “It was so many great players … every night. It was no nights off. Back in the day, it was no friends. Everybody was trying to get to the next level.”

Photo: 8News Reporter Autumn Childress

However, after 16 years in the league, Newman laced up for a final time in Dallas before retiring in 2002.

Fast forward to 2021, Newman now calls Richmond home. And while his playing days are over, he now uses what he learned on the court to pour into the younger generation.

“I really try to get kids to understand to work on your skills, have fun, get an education and go different places in the country … that’s what basketball can do,” he explained.

Currently, the retired pro runs two basketball camps and partners with the Henrico Police Athletic League. Over the years, he’s shared his knowledge and wisdom with hundreds of aspiring athletes.

“When the kids come back and say ‘I went to your camp,’ that makes me feel great,” he said. And while he acknowledges all of his accomplishments both at U of R and in the NBA, he says he wants to remembered for his work in the community.

“Although I wasn’t a native of Richmond, because I’m from Danville, I tried to do all I could for the betterment of the city and the youth,” he said.

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