Minnesota Timberwolves general manager/former Kansas University guard Milt Newton, who was born and raised in the Virgin Islands, returned to St. Thomas with his wife, Shalaun Newton, earlier this month to speak with youths about the importance of education and also announce the formation of a charitable foundation to assist youngsters who live in the U.S. territory.
Newton’s “Emerald Gems Foundation” will hold a free two-day camp and clinic for 75 campers, ages 8-17, on Aug. 6-8 at the University of Virgin Islands. Former KU coach Larry Brown, who led Newton’s 1988 KU team to an NCAA title, will take part in a coaching clinic at the event.
“Every time I come back to the territory to speak, I look out into the crowd and remember when I was a kid here growing up and how it felt seeing someone that wanted to come back and share their story with me,” Newton said, speaking to students at Bertha Boschulte Middle School, as reported by the St. Thomas Source newspaper.
“I want to let you (students) know that there is hope, but that you have to set goals and make the decisions every day that you need to achieve those goals.”
He related the story of his having to repeat seventh grade because he skipped school so often to play basketball.
“I loved playing the game. I played it every day, even to the point where I would get in trouble. I missed so many days of class that I failed the seventh grade and had to do it over. I wasn’t thinking about the decision I was making at the time, I was just thinking about basketball instead of paying attention to my teacher,” Newton said. “Everyone wants to be an athlete, wants to play basketball or baseball. But if I didn’t do my work, I learned that I couldn’t play basketball, so the one thing that kept me really focused when I was your age, was that I wanted to play basketball so much that I actually had to do my homework and that helped me go on to be a really good student in high school and college.”
Newton, who left the Virgin Islands for the States when he was 14, told reporters that his and his wife’s foundation will focus on “inspiring and encouraging students to learn how to make the same kinds of decisions (as Newton learned to), both on and off the field.”
”This is something we’re doing to give back to the territory, the place where I got my start,” Newton told the St. Thomas Source. “And it’s going to be an ongoing thing, with us hopefully being able to implement programs down the line and provide opportunities for the students to experience positive things, so they can learn that they have just as much of the same potential as any other kid.
“We want to bring in coaches willing to give seminars, or teach our coaches in the territory the correct way of playing the game,” Newton added. “A lot of coaches think they know how to do certain things, and that may be true, but when you can bring in Hall of Fame coaches that can show what has helped them get to the level that they’re at, well, we think that’s a very positive thing.”
Newton said he always knew he’d return to assist youths in the Virgin Islands. His plans, he said, accelerated in September of 2014 when the 30th Legislature of U.S. Virgin Islands unanimously passed on the Senate Floor Bill No. 30-0415. It renamed the recreational center in Estate Bordeaux (west end of St. Thomas where Milt grew up) the “Milton M. Newton Basketball Court and Recreational facility.”
It was on that court, formerly named the “Bordeaux Court and Recreational Facility,” that KU’s No. 37 all-time scorer (1,166 points) was introduced to hoops.
“It is the most distinguished honor I have ever received,” Milt told the Journal-World.
Establishing an annual program of coaching seminars and youth camps and clinics, he said, “is to educate the coaches and youths of the Virgin Islands and develop their talents. The ultimate vision is to start with basketball camps and gradually grow the foundation to include other charitable programs and contributions. ‘Emerald Gems’ is the name chosen for the foundation due to its significance. The U.S. Virgin Islands are the Emeralds of the Sea and Gems represent how (Milt) views the youths.”
Newton, who has a daughter, Shaniya and son, Miles, was peppered with questions by youths during speeches at Virgin Island schools about completing the trade that brought Andrew Wiggins to the Wolves and sent Kevin Love packing to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I mean, we got back the rookie of the year. What more do you want?” Newton joked as reported by the Virgin Island Daily News.
One student said it was educational to listen to Newton’s words of wisdom.
“The main thing I got from this was goals and being able to go to college and be an athlete, but also get an education,” Kean High School senior Kerrol Laurent told the Daily News. “That and to come back and help people that have helped you and to help your family.”
For information or to donate to Newton’s foundation, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All in the family: Newton’s wife, Shalaun, is a former sprinter for a Minnetonka (Minneapolis suburb) team that won two Minnesota state high school girls track championships (1985-86). She met Milt at KU, where she was a sprinter as a freshman.
“I’m very excited. This has been a dream of his for 22 years. It’s also been a dream for me for this to happen to him,” she told the St. Paul Pioneer Press when Newton was named Minnesota GM in 2013.
Q and A: Newton agreed to take part in a short Q and A with the Journal-World
Q: How important is giving back to youths in the Virgin Islands to Milt Newton?
A: “It is very important. I have learned that we are here to help others less fortunate. There are some talented and intelligent young people in the USVI. Like me, some just need encouragement and a positive role model to look up to. As a teenager in Washington DC, I was exposed to two such people who had a profound influence on my development as a person. Kent and Carmen Amos, the two people I call my mom and dad.”
Q: What are your fondest memories of KU?
A: “Winning the NCAA championship in 1988 and getting both my bachelors and master’s degree from KU. I was the first person in my family to receive both degrees.”
Q: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of being a GM in the NBA?
A: “The biggest challenge is getting that player who legitimately can be superstar. When you have that piece in place, that’s half the battle. We now have that in Andrew Wiggins. Another challenge is managing all the different personalities and agendas of your players and the outside influences on your players that are pro-individual rather than pro-team. The biggest rewards are watching your team win as they grow together, compete, and play the right way, as well as seeing your players develop and reach their full potential. ”
Q: How did KU prepare you for NBA front office work?
A: “As an alumni of Kansas University, I had some great professors who prepared me for my career in the NBA. The late Dr. Nona Tollefson is one professor who prepared me tremendously for my career. Dr. David Cook and Associate Dean Jerry Bailey are two other influential people in my education at KU.”
Q: “And any other thing you might want to say to the fans.
A: “Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”