The Milwaukee Bucks entered the COVID-19 coronavirus stoppage of play on March 12 with a remarkable 53-12 record. That’s six games better than any team in the Eastern Conference and two games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers in the West.
One of the individuals credited for helping put this powerhouse squad together — the Bucks went 60-22 last season and lost in the 2019 East finals to Toronto — is St. Thomas native Milt Newton. Newton, 54, has been Bucks assistant general manager under GM Jon Horst since August of 2017 after previously being the Minnesota Timberwolves GM from 2013 to 2016.
“It is a ‘we’ environment here, a collaborative environment. I’m really fortunate to be part of this group,” Newton told The Star in a recent phone interview, in which he spread the credit around for Milwaukee’s current success. “I’ve been in the league a long time. I’ve seen a lot of management styles. I’ve been involved in a lot of management styles. I’ve learned a lot in terms of how to effectively manage a team,” added Newton, who also held the title of vice president of player personnel for the Washington Wizards from 2003 to 2013. “We’ve got young guys here who are very smart (GM Horst is 37). Hearing everyone’s viewpoint and opinion is how you grow. I want to grow in any situation. Working here has helped me grow as a manager. Like they say, when you win, everyone gets a little credit. It doesn’t change in this situation,” Newton added.
The Bucks are a team noted for a high-powered offense that averages a league-leading 118.6 points a game. Milwaukee’s defense allows 107.4 ppg, fifth best mark in the league. Superstar power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo averages 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game. Forward Khris Middleton averages 21.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest; point guard Eric Bledsoe 15.4 points and 5.4 assists and center Brook Lopez 11.0 points and 4.5 rebounds. Ten Bucks average over 16 minutes a game.
Impressed with the Bucks’ overall play, Newton thinks the team can pick up where it left off once the season resumes — or make that if the season resumes amid the pandemic.
“Our players and coaching staff understand we were having a special season,” Newton told The Star. “We understand what our goals are. Whenever we resume playing we’ll be in a good situation to continue pursuing the goals we had.
“We have one goal and the goal is to win a championship,” he added. “From our best player on down everyone cheers for each other when we do well. Everyone wants their teammates to do well. Guys understand it’s a team game. “The way the staff (led by head coach Mike Budenholzer) wants them to play — unselfish, taking the best shot we have that is available, passing it up when there’s a better shot … all players have bought in to do what it takes to be successful.” Newton said he’s been busy working from home during this two-month stoppage of play with plenty of things to consider and evaluate such as the 2020 NBA draft.
“All teams are in the same situation, but speaking for us we’re working every day like we are in the office,” Newton said. “It’s a day at the office only at home. Just because there is no combine to attend (for NBA prospects) or no individual workouts to conduct, this is for now the new normal. (We’re) doing interviews through Zoom, talking with people in the scouting department … we’ve done a good job knowing who the players (potential draftees) are. We did a lot of the work before the crisis. Moving forward we’re making the best of the avenues we have available.”
On a personal note, Newton, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and his wife Shalaun, continue to run the Emerald Gems Foundation. Formed in 2015, the foundation has sponsored youth basketball initiatives in the Virgin Islands.
Newton has brought in coaches such as former KU coach Brown for an annual summer clinic for youths in the Virgin Islands. His foundation has donated hundreds of basketballs to public schools and even brought some youngsters at his previous stop in Minnesota to watch NBA games. Information for those who wish to support the foundation is available at emeraldgemsfoundation.com. “Shalaun and I are extremely excited for the opportunity to serve the youth of the Virgin Islands,” Newton said on the website. “It is our mission to use our foundation as a vehicle to provide positive learning experiences both athletically and educationally for our youth. Our intent is to continually seek out, engage and partner with other like-minded individuals and entities, both locally and nationwide, toward the advancement of our youth. “We are grateful for the many people involved in assisting us in this project to provide basketballs for our V.I. public schools and look forward to many other opportunities to give back to the territory.” Many have noticed Newton’s work. “I’m proud of Milt,” former KU coach Brown told The Star. “It’s been fun to follow him and see what he’s accomplished. I am looking forward to him being a GM again soon.” Former KU coach Roy Williams, who coached Newton at KU in 1988-89 said on the Emerald Gems website: “What Milt and Shalaun will accomplish through the work of Emerald Gems Foundation truly represents what they are about and the mark they want to leave on the lives of youth in the USVI. Milt was the captain and leader of the first Kansas team I coached, and truly embodied all the qualities needed to be a successful leader of people. He showed compassion and concern for his teammates both on and off the court, so I am not surprised that he continues to exhibit this kind of concern for others through the work of the Emerald Gems Foundation. “Milt will never forget his homeland, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that he is looking to give back to the USVI in this way,” Williams added. “He was blessed as a youth with some great mentors who helped him and he wants to do the same. The Emerald Gems Foundation, through the leadership of Milt and Shalaun, will undoubtedly succeed and provide positive experiences for the youths of the USVI for many years to come.” Of his foundation, Newton said to The Star: “We probably won’t be able to do camp this year because of the virus. We’re always trying to find ways to contribute. We’re still going strong with the foundation. We’ve served close to 500 campers. We usually average 100 per summer. A lot of people have helped us along the way. It’s my responsibility to help others to further their education and careers.”