Newman Remembers Early Days With Olympic Star McCoughtry
By Keith Mills
Maya Newman remembers the day she first walked into the new St. Frances gymnasium 10 years ago for her first day of practice with Angel McCoughtry and the mighty Panthers' girls' basketball team.
"I was kind of intimidated," Newman said. "I was so young. I said, 'Wow, I'm going to play with Angel, Nija Bastfield.' I knew Angel and most of the girls, because we played for the same AAU program. But I was just a freshman, and they had already had a lot of success. I was very nervous."
The butterflies didn't last long for the 14-year-old freshman, who settled in as a starter for coach Jerome Shelton's powerful St. Frances squad, which went on to win the IAAM A Conference championship that year, the second of three for McCoughtry before her 2004 graduation and the first of four straight for Newman.
Newman is now 23 years old. A graduate of Bowie State University, she works for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield in the Canton section of southeast Baltimore. Like millions of Americans, she is keeping a close eye on the Olympics, and particularly the women's basketball team that features McCoughtry, her former St. Frances teammate and good friend.
"It's great to see her playing so well and doing so well," Newman said. "We all feel a part of it -- everyone who played with her, who knows her. Angel is a great player and everyone now knows it."
McCoughtry has joined Michael Phelps of Towson High, Carmelo Anthony of Towson Catholic and Matt Centrowitz of Broadneck as Baltimore-area high school athletes not only to make the United States Olympic team, but to turn the London games into their own personal showcase.
Add to that quartet Allison Schmitt, who actually grew up in Michigan but swims now with Phelps for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and the area features five Olympians thriving on the international Olympic stage.
Between July 31 and Aug. 5 -- Phelps set the record for most medals won at the Summer Olympics with 19 (he finished with 22), Schmitt won the second of her three gold medals, Anthony broke the U.S. Olympic scoring record with 37 points in men's basketball, Centrowitz qualified for the men's 1,500-meter run and McCoughtry scored 42 points during three wins for the U.S. women's basketball team.
The five combined for nine gold medals -- four for Phelps, three for Schmitt, and one each for McCoughtry and Anthony as the U.S. basketball teams both finished first. Cardinal Gibbons alumnus Steve Wojciechowski also won a gold medal as an assistant coach on the men's basketball team. Centrowitz finished fourth in the 1,500-meter race.
Farrah Hall, who also went to Broadneck and graduated in 1999, finished with two personal bests and ended up 20th overall in windsurfing.
Phelps dominated the headlines as he finished his Olympic career, and McCoughtry quietly has emerged as one of coach Geno Auriemma's most consistent players. Against China, she scored 16 points with six rebounds, six assists and five steals. During the United States' quarterfinal win against Canada Aug. 7, she scored 11 points with two assists and two steals.
Although that's not surprising to her former teammate at St. Frances, Newman wasn't quite sure just how good McCoughtry would be.
"Around here, Angel dominated," Newman said. "She worked as hard as anyone, and she could do it all. But you never really know how that would carry over to the next level. I know one thing -- it was never dull around Angel."
St. Frances wasn't just good when McCoughtry, Newman, Bastfield, Tammy Rogers, Shadae Swan, and later Mi-Khida Hankins, Danielle Parker and Keisha Walker swarmed the court for Shelton; it was lethal. The Panthers could all handle the ball, run the floor, rebound and play relentless defense.
From 2003-08, the Panthers won six consecutive A Conference championships at a time when the league featured some outstanding all-around players such as Chandrea Jones and Katie Hoelter of the Institute of Notre Dame, Brittany Mallory of McDonogh and Marah Strickland of Towson Catholic.
McCoughtry is the daughter of Roi and Sharon McCoughtry. She grew up off Northern Parkway, not far from the famed Northwood recreation program. Northwood is the home of one of the Baltimore area's premier Pop Warner football programs, which at one time featured former Ravens linebacker Tommy Polley.
It also became the home of the Baltimore Cougars AAU team, which at one point featured McCoughtry on its Under-17 team and Newman, who played for then-Western coach Donchez Graham, on the Under-15 team.
"I was two years younger than Angel and the other girls and used to playing girls in my age group," Newman said. "But that first practice at St. Frances, I was kind of scared and nervous. But Angel scooped me right up, took me under her wing and showed me the ropes."
Newman is the daughter of Chuck and Audrey Newman. She grew up in the Windsor Mill section of Baltimore County and would have gone to Woodlawn if not for St. Frances. Both her parents were outstanding basketball players in high school and college. Chuck was an All-MSA forward at Edmondson during the mid-1970s, who went on to play at the University of Baltimore for legendary coach Frank Szymanski. Along with teammates George Pinchback, Cleveland Rudisill, Ronald Smith, Gerald Watson and Kenny Sullivan, he was a part of one of the great collegiate rivalries in Baltimore history -- the famed UB-Towson State Division II showdowns of the late 1970s.
Vince Angotti coached a Towson team that featured Roger Dickens, Brian Matthews, Pat McKinley, Savia Sharp, Rod Norris and Bobby Washington. The teams staged some epic battles and were an extension of the fierce high school rivalries that featured many of the players from both teams.
The former Audrey Pitt played her high school basketball at Western before moving on to UMBC. Newman's sister Tanay also went to Western before attending Coppin State.
Newman's first semester at St. Frances was the fall of 2002, McCoughtry's junior year. The Panthers hit a new gear, winning 26 games during Maya's first year, and then 24, 21 and 24 during the rest of her career on the way to an overall record of 95-15 and four straight conference championships.
McCoughtry graduated in the spring of 2004 as one of the area's all-time greats. She averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior, when she was named The Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year. As a senior, she averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds and led the Panthers to a win against Roland Park and her third A Conference title.
After a year at Patterson Prep in North Carolina, she moved on to the University of Louisville, where she became one of the nation's premier players, leading the Cardinals to the national championship game in 2009. A few weeks later, the Atlanta Dream selected her as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 WNBA Draft.
Meanwhile, Newman, Hankins, Parker and Walker were still tearing it up for Shelton at St. Frances, building on what McCoughtry, Rogers, Swan and Bastfield had created. In February of 2004, the Panthers beat IND, 68-52, for Newman's third straight title and added a fourth one year later, when they beat Seton Keough, 42-31.
As McCoughtry was establishing herself as a scoring machine at Louisville, Newman went on to play at Towson. She transferred two years later to Bowie State, where she played for coach Donna Polk, and graduated last year with a degree in communications and public relations. Now she works for CareFirst and has watched all of the U.S. women's Olympic basketball games on television.
"It's really cool," Newman said. "That was a great time in my life. I miss it sometimes, and seeing Angel playing now brings back great memories. At work, my friends know Angel and I played together and they are always talking about it. She always wanted it so much. She was always so motivated. At St. Frances, if you didn't want to win and play hard, if you didn't get after it, you didn't play. Angel always got after it.
"She's been so good for Baltimore. She was the Player of the Year on the No. 1 team in town. I never knew where it would take her, but I knew she would give it everything she had, and she's done that, and now she's playing in the Olympics. One of my close friends is playing for our country."
Issue 176: August 2012