D.J. Newbill: America’s Most Underrated Player
D.J. Newbill casually dropped 20 points and grabbed five rebounds in Penn State’s loss to Illinois Saturday. After a run that included an excellent Nnanna Egwu post move and a Malcolm Hill finish at the rim that gave the Illini a two point lead, there was no doubting the ball was going to Newbill to try and win it.
With 4.4 seconds to go, he ran the length of the floor, attacked the hoop, and adjusted his shot only to watch helplessly as the ball rolled on the rim and stayed out of the bottom of the basket as the buzzer went off. It was a 60-58 heartbreaker that should put Penn State’s tournament hopes to bed permanently, barring a miracle finish to the schedule with lots of strong upsets or a conference tournament run.
The defender was in the restricted area, and Newbill may well have drawn the foul, but that’s the way it goes for Penn State basketball in the Pat Chambers era, at least this portion of it. Heartbreaking losses and collapses in winnable games have Penn State looking like the pretender so many said they were after non-conference play, and that means that one of the best scorers in college basketball won’t have his moment in the sun come March.
Through 22 games in his senior campaign, Newbill is averaging 21.5 points per game to go along with 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He’s shooting an impressive 46.5 percent from the field, the best shooting clip of his career, and has 1.5 steals per game.
It’s a shame that a player as dynamic as Newbill, the man who takes entire defenses and slices through them like butter on his way to the rim, will most likely be watching the games on the HUB television with the rest of us. Both by virtue of his elite offensive ability and tenacious on-ball play, and because of the failings of the team around him, Newbill has become the most underrated player in America.
He’s the superstar on a so-so team that puts the entire roster on his back and carries them to the dance has become one of the sacred storylines in college basketball, whether that be Kyle O’Quinn, C.J. McCollum, or Jai Lewis. Newbill has all the makings of a character like that, a player dynamic enough to capture America’s hearts, if only for a few hours. The type of guy who people curse for busting their brackets with a major upset.
Newbill deserves that opportunity, but he’s not going to get it. There’s a decent chance he gets to play in the NBA, as Newbill’s scoring touch is as good as anyone’s and two-guard is the thinnest position in the league right now. America should know his name and be waiting to hear he got picked in the second round by the Spurs, who will turn him into the next Patty Mills. Instead, a handful of Penn State diehards will cheer when he makes a roster out of the summer league, and the rest of the country will wonder how a player from a football school in the middle of Pennsylvania made an NBA roster.
The Nittany Lions will be a better team in the future, and have quality players who work hard right now. However, they aren’t yet at the point where they’re truly contending for anything. Unfortunately, the influx of talent in the upcoming recruiting class won’t benefit the star senior through whom Penn State’s entire offense runs. We’ll look back on his three seasons in Happy Valley fondly, and proudly call him one of the best to ever put on the blue and white, but the rest of the country should be able to make that same claim.
The national and even conference media snub the man leading all power-five conference players in scoring, leaving him off All-Big Ten teams and just generally ignoring him when possible. That’s what happens when you play your basketball in the Bryce Jordan Center, but it shouldn’t be for long. Who knows? Maybe the entire script gets flipped as the rest of the roster turns on another gear, goes on a run, and makes it from the cellar to the bubble to the dance, Newbill receiving Jimmer-esque accolades along the way.
But if that doesn’t happen, and he simply ends his collegiate career as a Penn State folk hero, it would be a disservice to the man producing what may be the best individual season of any player in Nittany Lion history. The numbers say that Newbill belongs in the conversation with the best around, but when the win column doesn’t match it, it’s hard to get the credit you deserve. D.J. Newbill is the most underrated baller in America right now, and unfortunately, that may be a title he can’t shake.