MEN'S BASKETBALL: Former Ball State star Newell overcomes tragic injury to star in Italy

The swingman broke his leg in February and was 5 points shy of 1,000 in his BSU career

Anthony Newell and Bob Simmons sat in a room within the bowels of the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich., as they awaited an ambulance to take them to a nearby hospital.

Just minutes prior, Newell was laying on the Convocation Center court, unable to move after landing awkwardly on his right leg while attempting a rebound in the second half of Ball State University's 46-42 win last season at Eastern Michigan University.

His tibia and fibula were shattered in an instant, and a hush overcame the 843 fans in attendance that managed to arrive to the game after a snow storm hit the Great Lakes region that Jan. 10 morning.

Newell's season and his Ball State career were undoubtedly over 13 games into the season, and Simmons, Newell's assistant coach, tried his best to console the team's best overall player.

"Anthony and I just kept talking, and Anthony didn't think he was ever going to play again," Simmons said. "Over and over, he was saying, ‘It's over. It's over.' I just had to be there for him."

Newell said he was in shock as he awaited transportation to the emergency room.

"Truthfully, there was a lot going through my mind," Newell said. "Basketball, I really loved it, and I just felt like it had been taken away from me."

Fast forward almost nine months later. Newell scores 22 points and hits 3-of-4 3-pointers for UCC Casalpusterlengo of Italy in his first professional basketball game overseas.

The trip from Ypsilanti to Italy has been a tough and unconventional one for Newell and his family, but with an intense amount of faith and an undying determination, Newell's story currently features a young man in the middle of a boyhood dream.

2008 turned out to be the ideal year for the 6-foot-5-inch Newell.

In the summer, Newell walked across the Worthen Arena stage to become his family's first college graduate.

In the winter, he was a senior tri-captain of the men's basketball team that had finally found stabilization under second-year coach Billy Taylor.

Nobody was surprised when Newell was picked as a Preseason All-Mid-American Conference selection, but Newell still didn't have that complete season under his belt to completely prove himself.

Just two games into the 2007-08 season, Newell broke his left foot and missed nine games due to the injury. He was still able to emerge as one of the MAC's premier players in 21 starts that season, averaging 16.9 points and eight rebounds per game.

Even though his scoring average would have led the MAC and his rebounding average would've been second in the league, he missed too much time that season to qualify for the top postseason awards. He did earn All-MAC Honorable Mention accolades in '07-08, but as a fierce competitor, Newell needed more.

Newell's mother, Doreen, said she knew her son had been gifted with basketball talent since he was a toddler.

"When he was a little boy, he was playing basketball with his dad in the gym with grown men, and he was making the baskets," Doreen said. "So I know he was always gifted with this."

Anthony started off on a tear during his senior campaign in '08-09.

Three times he was named the MAC West Division Player of the Week, and he provided an early highlight to the Cardinals' season with a buzzer-beating jumper in Fort Wayne to defeat IPFW.

The team was much improved from the season before when it finished 6-24, and high hopes were placed on Newell to lead the team to a MAC West title when conference play began once the calendar turned to 2009.

The Cardinals opened the 2008-09 MAC schedule Jan. 10 on the road at Eastern Michigan.

Newell had two goals entering the game: A victory, and the team equaled its win total from the season before with more than 15 games remaining on the schedule; individually, 17 points and he would join the prestigious 1,000-point club.

Heading into halftime, both goals were well in reach. The Cardinals held the host Eagles to just four made field goals and led 24-13, while Newell had 10 points and was well on his way to 1,000.

Newell hit two free throws to come within just five points from the century mark. But it would be at the 12:04 point in the second half when everybody's plans changed.

Without realizing the immediate impact of the injury, the Ball State Sports Network showed multiple replays of Newell, called for a foul on a rebound attempt, landing and collapsing under the pressure of a compound fracture of his right tibia and fibula.

"There were a lot of things going through my head, but at the same time, it felt like I really wasn't there," Newell said. "It felt like everything was surreal."

Extremely concerned and aware of the immediate impact, Taylor, alongside Ball State assistant trainer Troy Hershman, was one of the first people to Newell's side.

Taylor wanted to remind his star player that he was responsible enough to ensure life after basketball.

"The common theme that we were talking about was one, that Anthony had gotten his degree, so that could not be taken away from him," Taylor said. "So regardless of what happens with basketball, he has his degree, he can move on and start a new phase of his life."

Facing emergency surgery, Taylor sent Simmons to accompany Newell to the hospital while the Cardinals struggled to hold off Eastern Michigan without their leader, winning 46-42.

But the emotional and physical damage had already been done. Just halfway through the season, Newell knew his Ball State career was done before he could leave his proper mark on the program, five points away from 1,000.

Stuck 250 miles away in snowy Chicago, Doreen Newell knew something was not right when she looked online to see how her son played against Eastern Michigan.

"As I was checking, I noticed that he didn't play much and he didn't score or play as much as he normally would," she said. "I got kind of worried and concerned, and probably a few hours after that, Anthony gave me a call."

Doreen did as much mothering as she could over the phone to console her distraught son.

"I was also distraught myself, because I wasn't there and I wanted to be there," Doreen said. "So he had to explain to me what had happened, and I was trying to calm him down and everything."

With a deep sense of faith, the Newell family knew how to look at the bright side as Anthony stayed over the weekend at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti recovering from surgery.

"I've always thought this was a gift from the Lord for him," Doreen said. "For the most of it, I wasn't really thinking of him playing basketball again, I was thinking about his health, and I was thinking about him getting well at the time."

Anthony also had a friend and teammate with advice about his exact situation. Jarrod Jones, then a freshman on the team, suffered a devastating broken leg heading into his senior year in high school.

Jones ultimately recovered to be named the 2008-09 MAC Freshman of the Year.

"I definitely talked to him about it all the time," Newell said. "I would ask him all the time, ‘Man, am I doing this right?' or, ‘What do I need to do?' just trying to see what he did to get back to where he's at."

Newell returned back to Ball State soon after his injury to find a foster family willing to take care of him while he was away from home: Billy Taylor and his wife, Avlon.

"That meant so much to me — so much to me," Doreen said. "I totally love them for that. I talked to them and I talked to [Avlon] before Anthony moved in with them, and she expressed to me how she would like for him to come in and that they love Anthony so much that they would take care of him."

With his leg stuck in a cast and his mobility limited to hobbling around on crutches, Newell's limb was slowly but surely healing.

Mentally, however, he just couldn't find the motivation to watch his team play the rest of the season.

"I didn't want to come off wrong, I didn't want to come off as selfish or anything by not attending the games," Anthony said. "I really missed it — I wanted to be out there with the guys, and going there to watch them play, it really hurt me a lot just having to sit there and watch the guys."

Without Newell, the inspired Cardinals rallied to a co-MAC West Championship, advancing to the semifinals of the MAC Tournament.

In the meantime, Newell was overcoming daily excruciating pain in rehab. He had one thing on his mind: getting back on the court.

"It's one of the toughest things I've had to go through just because the pain sometimes with the soreness will kind of deter you or it will kind of make me down," Newell said. "I had to work really, really hard — it was tough, but it definitely made me a stronger person because I got through it."

Newell said he couldn't do much of anything other than rehab while his leg healed, so he strengthened his relationship with God.

"I just felt like I could do anything after learning who God was and how he works, and I just felt like I could do anything, and at that point, I knew I could play again," Newell said. "It was up to me to believe and to put in the work, so I give God all the glory."

Newell signed with a sports agency in Indianapolis. They told him they were confident he would land a job in professional basketball, but it would be hard work considering his leg injury.

"I was able to stay patient, and the funny thing about is I was going to church, [and] they were telling me just not to worry," Newell said. "Not to worry about things and just pray about it."

On Aug. 4, Newell made the announcement that answered all his prayers.

He had signed with UCC Casalpusterlengo to play professional basketball in Italy, fulfilling a boyhood dream that seemed impossible just a few months prior.

"I got the call one day from my agent saying that a team in Italy wanted to sign me," Newell said. "It was amazing for me to be where I was at in January with my life and my leg, and just to be where I'm at now — it's amazing."

Newell was ecstatic, but his mother was overcome with joy.

"This is what Anthony wants to do," Doreen said. "This is always what Anthony wanted to do was play basketball. He loves basketball, so I was excited for him."

Though he admits he still doesn't feel 100 percent since recovering from his injury, it didn't take long for Newell to showcase his talents in professional basketball.

On Oct. 4, in his first game with UCC Casalpusterlengo, Newell scored a game-high 22 points and hit 3-of-4 3-pointers in his team's 82-79 win over Scafati Basket.

"I wasn't nervous, I was just so excited," Newell said of his first game back. "It was the best feeling that you can have to go through all that you go through and be able to talk about it and still succeed — man, it's amazing."

Through nine games this season, Newell has proven himself as one of the top newcomers in the league. He's averaging 13 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals a game as his squad battles through youth with a 2-7 record.

Newell laughed as he discussed the differences between college and European ball.

"It's a lot more physical," he said. "The referees kind of act like they don't see things, and guys get away with a lot."

Doreen said while she misses her son, she plans on visiting Anthony and his "bionic leg" soon.

"It seemed like just yesterday that he broke his leg," she said. "And now he's up and running and it's like it never even happened."

Anthony said after such an experience at Ball State, he knows how to enjoy the good and the bad.

"Every second of it, I'm going to enjoy it," Newell said. "Even if I'm having problems, there's going to be a smile on my face, because I'm just going to enjoy it because it's just been a blessing to me."

UCC Casalpusterlengo, Italy
Games: 9
Points per game: 13
Rebounds per game: 5.1
Steals per game: 1.3
Field goal percentage: 56.1
3-pointers made: 12


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