Rutgers alum says playoffs could be within reach

Q&A with Chicago Sky Guard Chelsea Newton

With's Adam Hirshfield

Chelsea Newton's two-year WNBA career has already seen both the highest of peaks and the lowest of valleys. After a successful collegiate career at Rutgers where she was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and earned All-Big East Third-Team honors, Newton, a 5-11 guard, started all 34 regular season games and eight playoff tilts in helping lead the Sacramento Monarchs to the WNBA title as a rookie. She was also named to the league's All-Rookie Team.

"As long as we compete, as long as we keep pushing forward, there's always a chance that we can make the playoffs," says Chelsea Newton of the Sky's chances in 2007. "That's what we need to work toward."
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Two months later, the Monarchs left Newton unprotected in the Chicago Sky expansion draft and she was selected to make the move to the Windy City. The Sky struggled to a 5-29 record in their inaugural campaign, but Newton served as a team captain, averaging 6.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.33 steals per game in 27 contests. This offseason, Newton has returned to Rutgers to help out former coach Vivian Stringer as the women's team's Director of Player Development.

Q. So you're back at your old college stomping grounds with Coach Stringer. What have you learned from a legendary coach like her, and what's it like being back?
CN: "I'm happy to be back, but it's a lot different, especially being on the other side of things. But everyone has welcomed me and helped to teach me the ropes, so I'm enjoying myself.

In my time here, I've learned that coaches get no sleep! (Laughs) Coaches get no sleep! Coming back into college sports, you would think it'd be (calmer) to come home. But I've noticed that I now have no clue what's going on in the outside world because I am so wrapped up in what I'm doing. You go into the office and it's not a 9-to-5 job; it's a 'whenever you get done' job. I find it amazing that Coach Stringer is constantly dealing with coaching, players and personal lives. Then she has her own life to deal with, too."

Q. So what exactly are you doing in your Director of Player Development role?
CN: "I do a lot of coordinating video, a lot of the computer work for the team. I've learned a lot about the equipment and the new technology. I'm also doing a lot of the community service coordinating for the girls. I've set up motivational speakers and have been doing whatever I can to help out with the girls or with anybody in the office. More than anything, I've been a role model for the girls."

Q. You went to Israel and Poland last offseason, but you chose not to go abroad this time around. What led to that decision?
CN: "My body needed rest. After four years of college and nonstop basketball, I needed a break physically. It also had to do with this opportunity at Rutgers, because, otherwise, I might have just taken off half the year, then gone overseas in January."

Q. How have you been keeping in shape?
"Coach Stringer has told me that my basketball should take precedent over anything, including my job at the school, so she gives me plenty of time to work out during work. I've been constantly playing and working out. Because of NCAA rules I can't play with the girls on the (Rutgers) team and I can't work out with them, but I've been keeping busy on my own."

Q. Is there something in particular in your game that you've been working on?
CN: "My outside jumper. The issue with me has always been confidence. So I've just been constantly shooting, constantly shooting, constantly shooting. I can't tell you how much I've shot. But I'm happy with the result thus far."

Newton won a WNBA title as a rookie with the Monarchs in 2005.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Q. How else have you been occupying yourself this offseason? Have you seen any movies? Or watched any good TV? Have you done any traveling?
CN: "No, everything has been with the team. We went to the Virgin Islands, and it was a great vacation, but it was a lot of work. It was a wonderful experience and I had a wonderful time. I went my senior year, but it's different going as an adult. But other than that, it's all basketball, it's this job. I can't complain because I love it, but you really don't have much time for anything else."

Q. You're known as "ChelNew" to some of your teammates and close friends. Couldn't they come up with something more creative? Do you have other nicknames?
CN: "(Laughs) I wasn't called that until I got to Rutgers, and Coach always says crazy things to everybody, so it probably came from that. People sometimes call me "Chels" or "Chel," and that's fine. But if I hear someone scream 'ChelNew' every now and then… well, that's not one I like a lot."

Q. You're originally from Monroe, Louisiana, in the northern part of the state. Were you or your family or friends affected by Hurricane Katrina? Have you been back to the area since then?
CN: "I have been back since then, but because we live in the northern part, we only got a lot of rain. Nothing like New Orleans. We were lucky."

Q. Looking back to last season with the Sky, is there anything positive you can take from a 5-29 season?
"The last game we played was a real positive note and a good way to end the season. We showed that we can play in this league and that we do have some competitive spirit in us. The people in the organization have been great; we can't say enough about them. We know that they want to win with a passion. Bringing in (new) Coach (Bo) Overton is an example of that. So I'm looking forward to next season."

Q. What was it like having a less than successful season like last year with the Sky immediately after the high of winning a WNBA title with the Monarchs?
"Tough. Very tough. It puts things in perspective. I was extremely fortunate to come into the league in a great situation with Sacramento. But coming to Chicago is a great opportunity as well. It's a great city and place to expand myself career-wise on the basketball court. It's given me more opportunities to showcase my skills. And I like to look at that way, because you need to keep pushing, keep persevering. It hasn't been easy in Chicago, but the girls are great and there are great people around who have kept us positive."

Q. What lessons did you learn from winning a championship in your rookie season?
CN: "The year was incredible. But watching the leaders lead — Ticha (Penicheiro) and Yolanda (Griffith) — was amazing. It's amazing how they got everyone to work together. If anyone had any problems, you were able to talk to them. They would accept any criticism from anybody. Yo(landa) would tell me, "You can't let my player get around the screen." Then I could tell her, "Well, then you need to come higher for me. It's your fault, because you need to come over (the screen more closely)." And she's like, "OK, I can do that next time." I always thought that was big of her. She's just a great leader and she taught me how to be humble."

Q. What does the Sky franchise need to do to improve upon last year?
"We just have to stay focused on what we do. We all know that every team needs a point guard every night and that everyone needs a center. I'm sure our staff is working on both of those (positions). Jia (Perkins) did a great job, especially not being a natural point guard and making the adjustment. But we need to be consistent in both of those positions."

Q. What are your goals for the team looking ahead to next season?
CN: "I want to show everyone in the league that we're competitive. That's the biggest thing. It's not about wins and losses. We lost a lot of close games at the beginning of last year. And we sort of stopped competing at one point. But as long as we compete, as long as we keep pushing forward, there's always a chance that we can make the playoffs. That's what we need to work toward."

Q. Now that you've seen the college game up close this season, are there players, either at Rutgers or at other schools, who you could see making a difference in the WNBA this coming year?

Newton, right, is considered one of the league's top defenders, but matching up with players like Sheryl Swoopes, left, is no easy feat.
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CN: "Ivory Latta, we all know about her. She's a great point guard (at North Carolina). Jessica Davenport at Ohio State could be the player of the year: She's a big body who will be a big addition to whichever team she goes to. And Lindsey Harding, the point guard from Duke: She's going to be a solid player for someone. Still, I always need to wait and see how players from the college game adjust. Because the last few times I've said someone's going to have an immediate impact (in the WNBA), they've proven me wrong. So we'll just have to wait and see."

Q. Do you keep in touch with other former Scarlet Knights, like Cappie Pondexter?
CN: "Yeah, we usually keep in touch, though I haven't talked to her since Christmas. But we keep in close contact. I tell her what's going on here, tell her about the players. We've always been good friends. We were roommates for four years."

Q. You're known as a bit of a defensive specialist. Which players do you find the most challenging to guard?
"Diana (Taurasi) has always been a tough check. She's such a tall player for her position and she's so skilled at what she does. Deanna Nolan, with her quickness, her ability to get to the rim and her jump hook... she's amazing. Sheryl Swoopes… I could keep going on and on. There are a bunch of great players in the league."

Q. Is there a player you'd love to play with someday?
"Tamika Catchings. I'd love to play with her. I love her intensity. I would play next to her any day."

Q. What would you like to do after your WNBA career? Coaching? Is it something to do with your major in school, sports management? Is it being a GM?
"I've always wanted to go into athletic administration. Something along the lines of a general manager or team president. Something where I get involved in the operations of a team. I've even thought about coming back to college and becoming an athletic director, and I thought now would be a perfect time to begin and see how that works, then work toward that."

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