Escape from Anchorage: Damon Sherman-Newsome’s long and winding road to Colgate

Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.

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It has been an incredibly long and winding road for Damon Sherman-Newsome. Far longer than the 4,147 miles that stand between his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, and Lufkin, Texas, where he played a year of junior college ball. And it has been longer still than the 1,544 miles from Lufkin to Hamilton, New York, where Sherman-Newsome is currently the star senior guard spearheading the resurgence of Colgate men’s basketball.

“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure,” says Sherman-Newsome, who chased his dreams of playing Division I college basketball north, south, east and west across the United States before finally seeing it realized.

A muscular 6-foot-5-inch guard, Sherman-Newsome keeps his beard — more five-day than 5 o’clock shadow — longer than his close-cropped hair. Sherman-Newsome grew up in Anchorage, a strip of coastal lowland that sits on the edge of treacherous mudflats and in the shadows of still active volcanoes. Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage has a population of about 300,950 residents, most of whom will never see beyond the municipality’s outer limits.

Even for the likes of Mario Chalmers, Carlos Boozer, and Trajon Langdon — all players who made it to the NBA — trying to make it out of Alaska and into Division I basketball is a task akin to trying to escape from Alcatraz. For a player like Sherman-Newsome — a man without a position who relies on grit, guts and guile to overcome athletic shortcomings — it is even more daunting.

Playing for Bartlett High School in the Cook Inlet Conference in Anchorage, Sherman-Newsome averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game during his four-year career, leading his team to three conference championships. As a senior, he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds, leading Bartlett to the state title.

But Division I offers never materialized for Sherman-Newsome, who spent his high school career playing center in an undersized, overlooked league.

“Out of high school, I didn’t get recruited like I wanted to,” he says. “It was mainly a lot of D-II schools from the Northwest area and U of A (University of Alaska – Anchorage) that were heavily recruiting me. So in order to reach Division I, I felt it was necessary for me to go to junior college to help my recruiting and exposure.”

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In the late summer of 2011, months after winning the state championship and receiving his third-straight All-State honors, Sherman-Newsome traveled more than 4,000 miles from his family and home in the frigid north, to the Texas heat to play junior college basketball at Angelina College, in the hopes of catching the eyes of a Division I program.

At the same time, Colgate head coach Matt Langel and his staff were trying to find ways to get talented players onto their team. Playing in the shadows of far more successful squads in the small Patriot League, Langel needed to find under-the-radar players that other coaches had overlooked. Players like Sherman-Newsome. Langel consulted with one of his colleagues, former Cornell and Boston College coach Steve Donahue, who pointed him in the direction of looking for junior college transfers.

“There’s no secret about it, Colgate isn’t located near a metropolis, unlike when I was coming from Philadelphia, you’re not in anybody’s hometown, so you have to be creative in general in recruiting,” says Langel. “Specifically here, you’ve got a great product to sell, but you’ve got to figure out who will be interested in that product.”

But with the rigorous academic standards of the Patriot League, Langel and his coaches couldn’t recruit the stereotypical JuCos – kids who were obvious DI talents coming out of high school, but couldn’t get through the Division I academic clearinghouse. And that brought Sherman-Newsome, who Langel had scouted when he was in high school playing AAU basketball from a team based in Seattle, back onto the coach’s radar.

“Damon specifically came up because you’re trying to make contact with all of these different junior colleges, and his dad was very active in the AAU community,” says Langel. “We followed him through his progress and his year in Texas, at his two-year school, and one thing led to the next and he became a really good option for us to recruit.

And while other coaches had dismissed Sherman-Newsome as being a too-small for a Division I center, Langel saw him as a future wing, whose background banging on the blocks could work to his advantage.

“You watch the film in high school, growing up in Alaska, he was often the biggest guy on the court so he had an ability to finish around the basket, he had good skill on the interior and clearly had been working on extending that out to the perimeter,” says Langel.

Before committing to basketball, Sherman-Newsome played a variety of sports — first baseball and soccer, and then football and basketball. While on the gridiron, he played linebacker and as he got older quarterback, two positions that require the ability to see the entire field and quickly analyze rapidly developing situations, traits that Sherman-Newsome says played a big role in allowing him to switch positions on the college hardwood.

“I think it’s helped me in terms of seeing the floor and knowing where everyone is supposed to be at,” says Sherman-Newsome.

During his first semester at Angelina, Sherman-Newsome saw significant minutes and performed well, and began to receive the recruiting notoriety he wanted. But following the break, his playing time took a huge hit, and as his minutes dried up. So did the attention from Division I coaches.

“My recruiting was pretty good my first semester of junior college,” says Sherman-Newsome. “And then for some reason, I went from starting to not playing at all, so the recruiting started to die down a bit. I can make assumptions, but I have no idea what the true reasoning was, because I thought I was playing well.”

But one coach kept coming around: Langel.

“Even though his statistics weren’t overwhelming in his year at junior college, we felt like he had a good feel for the game, a good IQ, and a good understanding,” says Langel.

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The following April, Sherman-Newsome visited Colgate’s campus in rural Hamilton, and it quickly became apparent that it was a great match for everyone.

“Colgate was one of the only schools that stayed in contact with me,” he says. “And then I came for an unofficial visit in April, I guess they liked me, and I felt kind of lucky that it happened that way, because most of the other schools gave up on me after I wasn’t playing.”

The adjustment from junior college to Colgate was not the easiest one for Sherman-Newsome. Once again over 4,000 miles away from home, he had to assimilate into yet another completely different culture both on and off the court.

“It was pretty different,” says Sherman-Newsome. “Junior college in general is a lot different than Colgate, and just where I grew up. Mainly I’m just talking about the academics. You’re not really expected to do as much in the classroom; it’s mainly focused on basketball and then also just the type of basketball being played. Especially coming to Colgate after being in junior college, it was a really fast-paced, up-tempo style without a lot of organization both on and off the court.”

At the same time, Colgate was going through a rough period, just months removed from an 8-22 season that saw them win just two Patriot League games.

“When I first got here, I felt like the team didn’t really believe in each other and what we were trying to do,” says Sherman-Newsome.

Since joining Langel’s team, Sherman-Newsome has always kept his rough experience in Texas in his thoughts, using it as motivation to make sure he stays on the court to play the game he loves as long as he can.

“It’s always been in the back of my head, and I always knew that I could play at this level and be a good player,” says Sherman-Newsome. “At first it kind of messed with me, and I second-guessed myself. But then after I got to [Colgate] and saw that I could play, it provided extra motivation for me.”

Now with Sherman-Newsome well into his third and final season as a Raider, the gamble that Langel took nearly three years ago on a player who averaged just five points per game at the junior college level is paying off.

“He has learned how hard it is to have success in Division I basketball, he’s learned how big the commitment is, how hard you have to push yourself, how much you have to work every single day,” says Langel. “That’s been a learning process for him, and it wasn’t easy for him right away, but he’s continued to put in the time, energy and work to learn how to be better, and get into better condition to make himself a better basketball player.”

Sherman-Newsome is currently the leading scorer on a Colgate team that has kicked off Patriot League play with three impressive victories against Lehigh, Bucknell, and Holy Cross. During the team’s most recent win, a 14-point victory over Holy Cross, Sherman-Newsome was unstoppable, dropping 30 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out four assists.

As one of several experienced players on this year’s team, Sherman-Newsome feels that he has witnessed a culture change in the locker room during his time at Colgate.

“I think that’s one of the biggest differences, we believe,” he says. “Even though it’s been a tough year so far, we’re sticking with it and I think it’s starting to pay dividends a little bit. Hopefully we continue to grow in that direction. We’re a lot more together, and we trust each other.”

Sherman-Newsome has come a long way since his days of playing for Bartlett High, but he’s not ready for the latest leg of his basketball journey to come to an end.

“My number one goal,” he says, “is to continue playing as long as I can.”

If you enjoyed this story visit our features section for more compelling pieces on the inspiring players who suit up out of the limelight in the shadows of mid-major basketball.