New Warriors Gaming Squad head coach Mike Newton didn’t arrive at the NBA 2K League in a traditional fashion.
After working as a graduate assistant at Cleveland State University, the former college point guard was a basketball operations assistant for the Wisconsin Herd before joining the Santa Cruz Warriors coaching staff last year. With former WGS head coach Tommy Abdenour—a Santa Cruz coach during his time in the 2K League as well—moving to coach at Lindenwood University, WGS once found a perfect fit from the G League for its man on the mic. Although Newton had never heard of the 2K League prior to a text from Santa Cruz GM Ryan Atkinson, he quickly grasped its potential for growth on and off the court.
In this Q&A, Coach Mike talks about his G League-to-2K League transition, the team’s goals for the season, and a high school basketball upset to remember.
Tell us a little about you—who’s the Coach Mike behind the mic?
Energetic, outgoing individual. I love to crack jokes, and sarcasm is the language I speak most fluently. Love to play music, dance, and just relax. Meeting new people and building relationships is what I enjoy most.
What’s a fun story from your playing days?
Playing in the Elite 8 in San Diego in the Torrey Pines tournament. We played against [William Howard] Taft [Charter High School], which at the time was ranked in the top 20 in the nation for high school basketball and was led by now-Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Kyle Pisco, our senior shooting guard, hit a game winner to upset them [you see? can future coach, #12, playing in the final seconds]. We were the only team in that tournament not from the West Coast. No one knew who we were and we made a lot of noise in that tournament.
What experiences from your collegiate playing experience will you carry over to your coaching career?
Patience. Until my sophomore year of college, I did a lot of winning. My last three years, I think I won a total of 10 games. It was hard to go out and compete as hard as you could but still come up short. Through all of the disappointment, I continued to teach and lead younger guys and I think looking at the glass half-full is what got me to where I am today. Those tough times made me who I am and how I continue to work no matter the circumstances.
How did you hear about the 2K League? What made you want to start coaching in it?
So, a funny story. After accepting the Santa Cruz Warriors job, my General Manager and mentor Ryan Atkinson randomly texted me “Hey, you know how to play 2K?” At the time, I thought he was asking to add me as a player. Ryan went on to say I should interview for the WGS job. After initially declining the interview process (not knowing much about the job), Ryan and I talked and he recommended I at least interview to learn more.
The rest is history. I really wanted to start coaching after I had a conversation with Rustin Lee, the General Manager for Warriors Gaming Squad. Rustin mentioned that he was very into developing young men and so much of this is managing the guys and building that relationship and trust. DING DING DING—that’s what I love to do. Esports is obviously growing and I enjoy 2K. Perfect match for a career.
Are you a big 2K fan? How long have you been playing?
NBA 2K5 (wow, it’s been that long). That was the first 2K I owned. I am a huge 2K fan—it’s the only game I brought to the Bay with me.
How has your transition from the G League to the 2K League been so far?
To be honest, it has been tough. I still take care of my players in the G League if they need help so I still do things with the Santa Cruz Warriors. I still get emails from the G League and I have to communicate with players and hop on monthly calls. My players and staff have done an excellent job of catching me up to speed on 2K League things, though, so in that sense it has been going well.
What lessons will you carry to Warriors Gaming Squad from your first year with the Santa Cruz Warriors?
Innovation. I want to implement things that will put us in the best position to win. Whether that is different actions, movement, or more cuts, I just want to give the league a different look. I would love to bring our own style to 2K and make teams want to adjust and adapt to how we play. At some point, I want us to be so effective that teams are forced to copy the way we play.
What are Warriors Gaming Squad’s goals this season?
Coming into this year I understand the expectations. This team is coming off two tournament wins last year. Our goal is to win the three tournaments and the NBA 2K League Championship. Off the sticks, we want to help these young men continue to see growth in their personal development. Our GM Rustin is a huge advocate for professional growth, so it feels good to be fully supported in the vision I have.
How have you been bonding with your players during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Much of our bonding has come through FaceTime. I call my guys frequently to check in to make sure they are good and their families are healthy. From there, it’s just basic conversation about 2K, their interest, and anything that comes to mind.
What’s something you wish more people knew about you?
That I truly want the best for everyone. My goal in life is to find a way to make sure I can help as many people as possible win in life.
Now it’s time for some rapid fire…
Favorite movie? 300
Favorite sport besides basketball? Baseball
Ideal dessert? Salad, ranch dressing, parmesan, croutons, pecans, apples, and dried raisins.
Go-to app? Instagram
Song stuck in your head/on your playlist? Lil Uzi – Lotus
Place you’d like to visit? Spain
Dream car? Ferrari LaFerrari
Pizza toppings? Pepperoni, Pineapples.
Favorite animal? Tiger
Hidden talents? Rapping. Please do not ask me to rap.