Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL (High)
Position: G/F Playing Height: 6-2 Playing Weight: 190
Date of Birth: February 2, 1930
Legal Name: Charles M. Newton
Nickname: Charles "Fig" Newton (More)
Additional Photos: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
Action Photos: (1) (2)
Game by Game Statistics
Kentucky Career Notes:
Multi-Sport Player [Baseball]
Post-UK Career Notes:
Served in the Military
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
State of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame
University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame
Biography - Basketball Hall of Fame Inductions: Service to the Game, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (October 11, 2000) by Cesar Brioso
Raised in Fort Lauderdale, C.M. Newton has given half a century to basketball.
The ritual involved a bucket of pig slop, a blindfold and a coat hanger attached by wires toa small electric generator.
Back when C.M. Newton was three-sport star at Fort Lauderdale High School in the late 1940s, an athlete earning his first letter in a sport also earned himself initiation into the L Club.
"After they'd dump the pig slop all over you , then they'd shower you all of, but you're blindfolded. Then they would sit you in a chair and have you grab a hold of two things," said Dick Esterline, a Broward County high school basketball officials for 45 years and a teammate of Newton's on the Flying L's baseball, basketball and football teams. "Well, you didn't it, but those were little coat hangers that were attached to wires and they had a little generator and they'd run electricity through you. You were sopping wet, and boy did you jump."
It won't be nearly as painful when Newton is initiated into an altogether different club Friday. That's when he will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
In a basketball career that has spanned more than 50 years, Newton played on Kentucky's 1950-51 national championship team and coached at Transylvania University, Alabama and Vanderbilt, integrating the basketball program at Alabama.
He served on the coaching staff of the 1992 Dream Team that won the gold medal at the Olympics and salvaged a scandal-ridden Kentucky basketball program as the school's athletic director.
"I wasn't a great player. I wasn't a great coach. I wasn't a great AD, but maybe it's just a combination of things that got me elected," Newton said.
"I dont know what l was. For an old Flying L like me to get in there, that's kind of mind-boggling, really."
From L's to Wildcats
Born in 1930 in Rockwood, Tenn. Newton was 9 months old when, in the middle of the Great Depression, his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, then a sleepy community of not much more than 20,000 year-round residents.
Newton eventually was an all-state player in baseball, football and basketball at Fort Lauderdale High and played on state championship teams in baseball and basketball.
"If he didn't play athletics, he would have achieved success [and] recognition in something else he would have gone into," said Bill Huegule, a longtime Broward high school coach who was a batboy on the 1947 team that won a state baseball title. "C.M. was the type of person that you knew was a special person."
Although just about everyone in town knew how talented an athlete Newton was, few outside his family knew of his father's battle with alcoholism.
"The way you did it back then was to keep it as a secret." Newton said, "But I was very proud that he first of all was willing to face that he had an issue and a problem and then were proud of what be showed in fighting that on a daily basis."
While Newton's father, Richard, was still struggling with his sobriety, Clois Caldwell, the basketball coach and assistant football coach at Fort Lauderdale High, became something of a mentor to young Newton, encouraging him in athletics.
By the time Newton graduated in 1948, he was good enough to be recruited by Adolph Rupp, the legendary basketball coach at college powerhouse Kentucky.
But with players such as Bill Spivey, Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan - all of whom are in the Basketball Hall of Fame (sic) - and Rupp employing a short bench, Newton was largely a role player with the Wildcats, one not always appreciated by Rupp.
Frustrated by his new guard's play in a preseason scrimmage, Rupp pulled Newton off the court telling him. "You know what you remind me of? A Shetland pony in a stud-horse parade."
Newton overcame that inauspicious start to play on Kentucky's 32-2 national championship team in 1951, making what he called a "modest contribution" in Kentucky's 76-74 victory over Illinois in the Eastern Regional title game, when Rupp called upon Newton's defense against Illinois star guard Don Sunderlage at the end of the game.
"He won the game for us against Illinois," Ramsey said. "He took on Sunderlage and held him down."
Newton parlayed his experience under Rupp into his first coaching job, taking over at Transylvania in 1951, right after his senior season at Kentucky.
In the summers, Newton, who also pitched for the Kentucky baseball team, played in the New York Yankee's organization after signing for a $10,000 bonus, playing with eventual Yankees Tony Kubek and Bill Skowron and for Mayo Smith, who went on to manage the Detroit Tigers.
A stint with the Air Force cut into his basketball coaching and baseball playing, and by 1955 Newton had a career decision to make when he came out of the Air Force. On Dec. 22, 1951, Newton had married high-school sweetheart Evelyn Davis at Park Temple Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale, and their daughter Debbie had been born in 1954.
"[If] I wanted to go back to Transylvania and be the head coach, I had to give up baseball," Newton said. "We had our first child, and it was very difficult to take a 1-year-old on the minor league baseball [circuit]. And the fact that I came out of the war and had not moved up in the organization made me decide that my best option would be go to another route."
His decision to return to Transylvania launched a successful college coaching career, but 1955 also brought tragedy when his older sister, Jean, committed suicide.
"It was difficult," Newton said "Anytime you lose someone at that age, I think that's where faith comes in and where spirituality takes over."
Newton and his wife took in Jean's son, Bill Bryan, then 15.
"Evelyn was the real champ in that," Newton said. "She really stepped up to the plate. She became a surrogate mother to Bill."
A rising Tide
With Evelyn taking care of the family, Newton was building the program at Transylvania (a 169-137 record from 1956-68) and never planned to leave Lexington, KY., until he got a call one day from Paul "Bear" Bryant.
The Alabama football coach and athletic director wanted Newton to coach the Crimson Tide's basketball team even though Newton was a relative unknown.
Assured by Bryant there would be no restrictions on recruiting, meaning he could recruit black players, Newton accepted the job for the 1969-70 season.
It had been less than five years since then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace made his stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent the university from becoming integrated, prompting U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to send in the National Guard to protect the first black students as they enrolled.
By the time Newton arrived at Tuscaloosa, the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan still had an office at the end of University Avenue.
But Newton was merely interested in building a program that would be consistently competitive in the Southeastern Conference and signed Wendell Hudson, the first black scholarship athlete in University of Alabama history.
"It obviously creates some animosity by some," Newton said. "It affected my family a lot more than it did me. They just heard a lot of things about their dad at school, some of the racist kind of stuff."
It helped Hudson that the decision to integrate was supported by Bryant.
"When Coach Bryant said, 'OK, this is what we're going to do here at Alabama,' if you were an Alabama fan, then publicly you didn't have anything to say," said Hudson, now the athletic director at McLennan Community College in Waco. Texas.
It was was an altogether different matter when Alabama visited certain other SEC cities.
"[The South] still was a very tough place to go play from a racial standpoint," Hudson said. "At the time the students sat behind the opposing team's bench, and in a couple of places that was not a very pretty sight. We talked about it. [Newton] was embarrassed about a lot of things that happened and really was upset."
But success silenced the naysayers as Newton compiled a 211-123 record at Alabama between 1969-80; won three consecutive SEC titles (1974-76) and was named SEC Coach of the Year in 1972 and '76.
But by the 1979-80 season, an 18-12 record brought rumblings from some Alabama supporters thai the Tide had too many black players. And with fan support lacking, Newton used a postgame radio show to say the program was appreciated more away from Tuscaloosa than it was at home.
The end at Alabama was near.
After 12 years in Tuscaloosa, Newton resigned to become associate commissioner of the SEC in 1980.
But Newton wouldn't be out of coaching long.
Coaching the Tide had established him on the national basketball landscape, and Vanderbilt came calling to make Newton its coach in 1982.
That year, doctors discovered Evelyn had lymphoma, a disease she would battle until her death in March.
"The only thing that's regretful," Newton said at a dinner honoring him in May, "is that Evelyn is not here to share it."
Back to Kentucky
While he was in the middle of putting together a 129-115 record at Vanderbilt, Newton had "one of the most enjoyable and interesting experiences of my coaching career," working as assistant coach to Bob Knight on the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal in 1984 in Los Angeles.
"To win a gold medal is just a very special thing when you're representing the United States," Newton said. "Boy, when you put USA on your shirt and go win that gold medal, that was just very special."
In Nashville, Newton felt he had found a special place where he and Evelyn could finally down after years of bouncing all over the country.
That's why at first he rebuffed overtures from his alma mater.
The University of Kentucky basketball program was mired in a recruiting scandal that cost Eddie Sutton his coaching job, and school officials wanted Newton to return home as athletic director and turn the program around.
"I never had any thought of coming back to Kentucky. I never had any thought of being an athletic director," Newton said. "But once [UK President Dr. David] Roselle and the others convinced me that I was needed, I said, 'Let's just do it.'"
Returning to Kentucky, Newton in 1989 hired Rick Pitino, who restored the Wildcats to national prominence, bringing a national championship to Kentucky in 1996.
When Pitino left to coach the Boston Celtics the following year, Newton hired Tubby Smith. He too, led the Wildcats to a national title in 1998.
In between guiding Kentucky athletics, Newton also found time to serve as president of USA Basketball from 1992-1996, overseeing the first Olympic Dream Team, which won the gold medal in 1992.
"There was only one Dream Team, and that was the first one," Newton said. "They call them Dream Teams, but they're not dreams compared to that first one."
Not quite retired
As Kentucky's athletic director, Newton didn't focus only on basketball. He hired Bill Curry away from Alabama to be UK's football coach in 1990.
But after leading the Wildcats to 1993 Peach Bowl, the remainder of Curry's tenure was a disappointment as Kentucky went 26-52 in seven seasons. Newton fired Curry in what Newton called "the most difficult professional decision I ever had to make."
A testament to Newton is that he and and Curry remain friends. "I had very bad feelings about the way it ended but not toward him," said Curry, now a college football analyst for ESPN. "I think he best he could with that situation and supported us for as long as he could."
In replacing Curry, Newton borrowed from Bryant, his former mentor at Alabama. As Bryant had done by hiring an unknown Newton back in 1969. Newton hired little-known Hal Mumme of Division II Valdosta State as coach on Dec. 12, 1996.
It proved to be a good decision.
With future No. 1 NFL draft pick Tim Couch leading Mumme's "Air Raid" offense, the Wildcats reached the 1999 Outback Bowl, their first New Year's Day bowl in 47 years, and ended last season at the Music City Bowl.
"He kind of downplays that, but the truth of the matter is it took a lot of courage for him to do it." Mumme said. "He basically hired me over the objections of nearly every sane person in this business."
Given all he had accomplished, Newton was looking forward to retirement, which became official in June.
He and Evelyn had grown attached to the Bahamas, where they would live with Newton filling his free time bonefishing, a hobby he became interested in as a kid on the flats of Biscayne Bay. But months before Newton's scheduled retirement, Evelyn succumbed to cancer after an 18-year battle.
"With her death, it caused me to revisit some of my thinking," Newton said. "I'm going to go ahead with the place in the Bahamas because I enjoy bonefishing, and I'll spend time down there and can take the family down. But I've got to have a little something to do."
That's why he accepted Pitino's offer to work as a consultant to the Celtics, helping with the draft and personnel matters. Newton also will continue to do some consulting work with the NCAA on basketball issues.
All that remains to cap his career is his induction into the Hall of Fame, were Ramsey and his son, Martin, will present him.
"I cant imagine how it's going to feel." Newton said. "Basketball has been such a big part of my life. Next to my family, it's been the love of my life. To have that kind of romance for all those years with a sport and then end up in the highest honor court that you could end up is just beyond my dreams."