Bastrop senior guard Cortlen Newsome has developed into a complete player this season.
Senior guard Cortlen Newsome wasn't surprised when he heard that it had been 15 years since Bastrop won its last district basketball championship.
Growing up in east Ouachita Parish, Newsome was aware that Bastrop's success in boys' athletics had been mostly confined to football.
When the Rams host McDonogh #35 Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, it will mark their first home postseason appearance in their now 12-year-old gymnasium.
Newsome, who transferred to Bastrop from Ouachita as a sophomore, is hoping the basketball Rams are laying the foundation to revive a once-proud program. It's not that he wants to take away from the football program. He just wants to see the basketball team to sustain the success.
"Hopefully, this can be the start of Bastrop being known for something other than football," Newsome said. "I think we have kind of changed the culture this year."
Bastrop (19-8) closed out the regular season by winning 13 of its last 14 regular season games, including a perfect 6-0 mark in District 2-4A.
It hasn't been all smooth sailing for the Rams. Following a promising 4-0 start, the Rams were blown out 97-70 by powerful Rayville and dropped a 65-64 overtime decision to Lincoln Prep. A 69-31 win over an overmatched General Trass outfit boosted the record to 5-2 before the season started to go south.
A combination of the flu and injuries left the Rams suiting up only eight players at times, leading to a 1-5 stretch.
Dropping below the .500 mark (6-7), the Rams appeared to be headed for another mediocre season.
Then, the Rams got healthy — and hot. Aside from an off night against Union Parish, they haven't cooled off since.
Newsome, who missed time with the flu, is the first to admit that the Rams aren't the most talented team. What sets this group apart is they are a bunch of grinders.
"We're a small team, and we've been through taller teams and faster teams," Newsome said, "but we've found ways to win. That's what has gotten us where we are in my eyes."
Like the team, Newsome encountered a rough patch as he endured a prolonged shooting slump.
"I went through some rough stretches, but that happens with a shooter. It's not the first time it's happened. I went through it at Ouachita," said Newsome, recalling his freshman season as a reserve for the Lions. "By the time the playoffs came around, I found it."
Newsome broke out of his recent slump at the perfect time, draining seven 3-pointers in a 28-point effort as the Rams clinched the district title with a 59-53 road win over Neville on Feb. 9.
"I went through a shooting drill with coach Fig (Dowles) the day before the Neville game, and I could feel my shot coming back," Newsome said. "The coaches told me they wanted me to keep shooting. I focused on taking good shots and following through. That was one of the best shooting games I have ever had besides the Franklin Parish game last year."
During the recent surge, the Rams have had different players carry the load offensively on a given night. One game it may be point guard SirQuan Hawkins, the next night it may be Danny Hill or Denterrius McHenry in the paint. Friday night at Winnsboro, Garrett Guirlando, who had been struggling, scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Rams came from behind to defeat Franklin Parish 71-67 in the regular season finale.
"When one of us falls, somebody else rises," Newsome said. "When I was in my shooting slump, Danny just came out of nowhere. We weren't expecting Danny to do what he did. He's not the biggest, but he's scrappy. He finds a way to get rebounds. He's one of the biggest assets on the team."
Something good came out of Newsome's temporary offensive downturn. Rather than continuing to force shots and letting his frustration show, he matured. As a result, he emerged as a more well-rounded player.
"Cortlen has been a much better defensive player this year," Bastrop coach Theabury Odom said. "He's pretty much been lock down on the press. He's become a more complete player."
Playing for Casey Jones, the former Ouachita and current Wossman coach, Newsome was well-schooled on the defensive side by the time he arrived at Bastrop.
"Defense was all we knew," Newsome said. "We didn't pick up a ball all summer. It was all about defense and running. Coach Jones made sure we were in condition."
Newsome brought that defensive mindset with him to Bastrop.
"I wanted us to be more defensive-minded first and then go on offense," Newsome said. "Coach Jones always said, 'Defense wins championships, offense wins games.'"
There is no doubt that Newsome has left an imprint on a Bastrop team which has won 19 games along with a district championship, and will go for win No. 20 Friday night.
"Cortlen has been instrumental in helping us reach some of our goals, the district championship being one of them," Odom said. "He's a team player. I am really excited for him to have the opportunity to play in this game Friday night. He works hard."
Newsome's play hasn't gone unnoticed as the University of Dallas and East Nazarene College (Massachusetts) have made inquiries.
When Newsome takes a break from hoops, he usually turns his attention to another passion — cooking.
"When I'm not playing basketball, I watch a lot of food channels," said Newsome, who plans to major in business marketing or culinary arts. "I love to cook. I like to try different recipes."
Newsome hasn't spent a lot of time in the kitchen this week. There's a basketball game to play Friday night. And, hopefully, a few more after that.