The world lost a great man with the passing of former UK athletics director C.M. Newton, whose impact on basketball spans far and wide, more so than many even realize. Not only did Newton do wonderful things for the University of Kentucky, he also left his mark around the Southeastern Conference and on the way the college game is played today.
So as those who knew and admired him mourn his death and reflect on his career, we too will celebrate all he accomplished and the legacy he leaves behind. It’s hard to imagine anyone else contributing as much as he did to college athletics — from coaching to integration to rule changes and nearly everything in-between — which is why his passing touches so many people everywhere.
Learn all about his impactful 50-year career as a player, coach and administrator:
He was a two-sport star at the University of Kentucky.
As a basketball player, Newton was a member of Kentucky’s national championship team in 1951.
As a baseball player, his pitching helped UK reach the NCAA tournament before he signed an MLB contract with a New York Yankees farm system.
He recruited the first black player at Transylvania. And again at Alabama.
Newton’s coaching career began at Transylvania (thanks to a recommendation from Coach Rupp), where he recruited the school’s first black basketball player.
Then in 1969, as the head coach at Alabama, Newton once again signed his school’s first black player, Wendell Hudson.
Integration was very important to Newton.
He led Alabama to its first two NCAA Tournament appearances.
Newton was brought to Alabama by Bear Bryant (through another Rupp recommendation) in hopes that Newton could turn the Alabama basketball program around. He eventually guided the Crimson Tide to its first two NCAA appearances while winning three straight SEC titles in 1974, 1975 and 1976.
He also led Vanderbilt to two NCAA Tournament appearances.
Newton left Alabama to become assistant commissioner of the Southeastern Conference in 1980, but was convinced to get back into coaching, at Vanderbilt, only a year later. He coached the Commodores to a 129–115 record in eight seasons with two NCAA Tournament bids.
He hired Rick Pitino, Hal Mumme, Tubby Smith and more.
Newton’s alma mater came calling in 1989 to pull its storied basketball program from the ashes. Newton took the AD job at Kentucky and his first move was the hiring of Rick Pitino, the savior of UK basketball in the early 90s. Pitino of course went on to win the national championship, UK’s first in 18 years, in 1996.
Newton also hired popular coaches Hal Mumme and Tubby Smith, as well as UK assistant Bernadette Locke-Mattox, only the second female assistant coach in Division I men’s basketball history.
With the hirings of Smith and Locke-Mattox, Newton is responsible for hiring UK’s first African-American men’s and women’s basketball coaches.
The shot clock, three-point line… He was behind those, too.
Newton served as the chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee from 1979 to 1985. During that time, college basketball added the shot clock, the three-point line, and the coaches’ box.
“What had happened in college basketball is we had gotten to where everything was a post-up game,” Newton explained. “And that’s why I favored the trapezoidal lane, to force the big guy to learn how to play basketball. Our coaches were all doing the same thing. They were putting a big guy on the box and keeping him there and it became a wrestling match. As a consequence you had more sloughing, sagging-type defenses. The three-point shot opened that up.”
He was director of the original Dream Team.
When USA Basketball introduced the “Dream Team” in 1992, Newton was the director of the program. He was vital in the U.S. Olympic team’s transformation from college stars to professionals, which included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, among many others you already know. The Dream Team dominated Barcelona in Newton’s first year as director.
He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Newton was a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2000 for all of his accomplishments across the game. He was inducted as a “contributor” for all he contributed to the sport.