Newborn develops into promising star for Syracuse after coming from AJ Elite tennis academy

first_imgA.J. James knew he had found something special the moment he first saw Rhiann Newborn play.Part of it was her natural talent, fostered at an early age by her father, Darryl Newborn, and developed through a constant presence at junior tournaments in her hometown of Houston. Part of it was her boldness, like the way she shouted “out” when the ball fell out of bounds, while her opponents would silently raise a finger.James was so impressed with Newborn, then 12 years old, that he introduced himself to her father soon after that first match. The two got along so well that by the time the tournament ended, James had added a budding star to the roster of AJ Elite, a tennis academy for future college prospects that James operated himself. “Since he’s a big guy he scared me a little bit,” Newborn said of that first meeting. “But once I met him he was really nice. He’s so motivated about the sport and wanting to make his players better.”Seven years later, Newborn has become a promising star for Syracuse (2-0) in its first full season under head coach Younes Limam. The sophomore has won both of her singles matches this season and one of two doubles matches with senior partner Amanda Rodgers. She will attempt to continue her success on Saturday against No. 7 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAll of this may not have been possible without James, who prides himself on AJ Elite’s track record of getting athletes into college. Over 130 of AJ Elite’s former students have made it to college and about 16 former students are now nationally ranked by the Association of Tennis Professionals, James said.“They like my serious, no-nonsense style,” James said. “I don’t swear at them and I don’t berate them.”Newborn, like many of AJ Elite’s athletes, was homeschooled for high school, which allowed her more time to improve her abilities and reach for a college scholarship. Days were often split between lessons taught by her father and James, with breaks for schoolwork and studying in between.During Newborn’s six years working with James, she won the most tournament matches in the 11-year academy’s history, he said. “In tennis you have to have a healthy arrogance about yourself because if you don’t, you’ll get torn to shreds,” James said. “And that’s something that Rhiann has about herself. I always tell my kids you talk with your racket and that’s what she’s done.”Darryl Newborn said James offered his daughter support throughout the college recruitment process. The academy played a key role in helping Newborn determine which tournaments to enter and how to use those tournaments to improve her talents.AJ Elite also helped her find friends who could double as her competitors, especially in the large group setting of James’ practices.“With the big group it really motivated me to get better,” Newborn said. “They helped me push myself through the times that I was not doing too well.”Over the years, James formed a bond with the Newborns that remains strong two years after Newborn committed to Syracuse as a five-star recruit. James speaks to the Newborn family around once a week, and Darryl Newborn considers James to be a “very big part” of their family. When asked to be James’ best man at his upcoming wedding, Darryl Newborn agreed.“When the kids spend nine to 10 years with someone every day, it almost becomes like a second parent,” Darryl Newborn said. “He’s had to teach her not only how to play tennis, but how to be a human being, too.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 22, 2015 at 12:07 amlast_img

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