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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 read more

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On A Roll: Pitt beats Wake Forest 80-65 to stay unbeaten in ACC

first_imgPittsburgh’s Talib Zanna, left, goes over Wake Forest’s Travis McKie for a dunk in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)PITTSBURGH (AP) — The last time Pittsburgh started its conference schedule with three consecutive wins was its 2010-11 season as a member of the Big East. The Panthers did it again by beating Wake Forest Saturday 80-65, but this time it was in Pitt’s first season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.The 2010-11 year saw the Panthers attain a No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament where they were upset by Butler in the Round of 32. Butler advanced to the National Championship game that season.Three years later, Pitt (15-1, 3-0 ACC) is yet to crack the Top 25 but has started its season nearly perfect behind the leadership of seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.“I think we aren’t getting the respect we should,” Zanna said. “We’ve just got to keep playing hard and keep winning.”Zanna recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds. The center from Kaduna, Nigeria shot 5 of 8 from the field and blocked four shots while defending the bruising Devin Thomas.“I think we, me and Lamar, need to step it up from now on,” Zanna said. “This is conference play, this is really important to us, it’s our last year.”Patterson, who has drawn rave reviews from multiple opposing coaches, left a similar impression on Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik.“I’m not saying he’s the elite player in the league but he certainly is one of the elite players in the league,” Bzdelik said. “I think he’s very under-the-radar in terms of how good he is.”“They have a great leader who can score in a variety of ways. He’s tough and gritty and experienced.”Patterson’s game Saturday was quite above the proverbial radar as he led all scorers with 27 points, his sixth 20-point game of the season. Patterson made 10 of 17 field goals and also recorded six assists and five rebounds.Behind Patterson and Zanna, the Panthers are playing what Patterson calls “Pitt basketball.” Or, unselfish, hard-nosed basketball.“A lot of the leadership comes from Lamar and Talib,” sophomore point guard James Robinson said. “They are our senior leaders. While both are scoring a lot, they are two of the most unselfish players.”“Both of them are passers and that creates more open shots. The other teams know that they are capable passers.”Patterson leads the team in assists at 4.5 per game, while head coach Jamie Dixon says Zanna has made an adjustment to his game that’s created more space for Pitt’s offense to work effectively this season.“It seems that teams are digging down whenever we go in the post to him,” Dixon said. “He needs to pass out of it first, and once they start staying tighter to their man, he can look to go attack the rim.”Behind the example set by Zanna defending ball screens, Dixon said the Panthers were able to hold Wake Forest’s scoring threats on the perimeter to below-average games.“Talib and the big guys especially did a good job of that,” Dixon said. “That really set the tone for us in the game.”Just as the seniors set the tone, they have also done so for this entire season where the Panthers feature five returning players but also six new ones.“We are just playing Pitt basketball right now,” Patterson said. “We want to grind teams out and see if they can last throughout the whole 40 minutes with us. So far we are going well but we have a lot of games left.”last_img read more

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