We had the chance to sit down and talk with Warriors Gaming Squad Head Coach Mike Newton for a mid-season check-in. Newton, in his third season coaching WGS, talked about returning all five starters, this season’s new format, his expectations for THE TURN Tournament, and much more.
1. First and foremost, WGS became the first team to return all five starters for a second consecutive season. Were you surprised that was possible, and what is it like having that continuity?
“Yeah, I was super surprised. Going in after we lost in the final four last year, our team was super close. I wasn’t able to be there the whole year with the Olympics (Newton served as the Director of Operations and Player Development Coach for Team Nigeria), so coming back to coach in the playoffs and seeing that continuity, it was great. It felt like a family, it was sad that we had to disperse.
So me, Rustin (Lee, GM of WGS), and Josiah (Cohen, AGM) assumed that DUX would take ANTOINE (in the 2021 expansion draft), who played great and just got better as last season went on. Once we got him back (after going unselected by DUX), we’re like ‘okay, at least we got four’. In the beginning of the process, we thought there was no way we were getting KayAus back, but then as time went on we realized there was actually a chance. We started looking into some things, possibly trading up, but luckily we didn’t have to make any moves and he was there at No. 20 (in the 2022 draft).
So far this season, it’s been good. Just being able to know the guys, how to get the best out of them, coach them—it’s been super great as opposed to having to get a new guy, or two new guys, and get them acclimated to how we roll.”
2. Now you’re all living in the same facility as half of the league, in Indianapolis. I saw that you and other coaches joined a weekend basketball league. How’s that been? What’s your record? And who is the best player among the coaches?
“Yeah we joined a league—Jeff Terrell (General Manager and Head Coach of 76ers GC) set it up. The league is pretty fun—definitely thought it would be a little more competitive, not to take anything away from our guys. We just played good ball. Any given week, someone could have a great game. It was just a lot of fun, our record was 8-0… we had a point differential of like +40. Unfortunately, the semifinals and finals were on our bye week, so we had to forfeit.
As far as the best player, I want to give it to somebody else but I believe I’m the best player (laughs). But, we had some guys though, gotta give them credit. DJ Layton (Head Coach of Kings Guard Gaming) was one of our most consistent, best scorers—he was a guy that teams didn’t want to have to guard, he actually played college ball too. Jeff Terrell, he can shoot the heck out of the ball. Bobby Buckets with the Pacers, BallLikeSeem with DUX, it wasn’t just me. There were games where I’d finish with 9 points, and DJ has 30 and Jeff has 26. If I had to choose someone else (for best player), it would be DJ.”
3. We’re a full 5v5/3v3 cycle into the season. How have you and the team adjusted to the changes in format so far, and what do you think the introduction of 3v3 means for the league in the long run?
“I think our team is still kind of adjusting. Last year, we were a team that had slow starts, whether it was game-to-game or series-to-series. Changing to a best-of-one and having a points system, it’s definitely been challenging, but we’re adjusting pretty well.
As far as 3v3 goes for us, surprisingly we struggled a little bit. Trying to understand the meta, and how you have to play in order to win, different concepts that you wouldn’t think would be in 3v3. I think we thought we had the guys to just get it done, and we’ve seen that in pro-am, but the league build is a little different. This second portion of the season, we’ll see a difference but we just had a slow start, which is crazy to say because this is technically our best start (in organization history), so we have to keep that in perspective too. We’ll see a lot of improvement as the year goes on, especially from ANTOINE, a guy that just gets better as the season goes on, that will be a huge help to our team.
As far as 3v3 goes for the league, I think it’s good. You get a lot of interaction and involvement with the community, and you want to draw as much attention to the league as possible so they’ve done a phenomenal job. And we’ll just see where it goes, you never know. Maybe they add more teams from the community, maybe they add community 5v5 teams, you just don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see where the league goes over the next few years.”
4. This is the first full season of having stage play back consistently. How has that been and what is the environment like in Indy in those weeks?
“It’s good energy, great seeing all of these faces. I’m not a big Twitter guy but I’ll get on Twitter and see guys chirping back and forth, coaches tweeting, but you’re never really able to develop a relationship though. So to be able to see them face to face, grab a bite to eat, talk about the league. Also, just meeting the players because you never know—in the future it could come up, ‘I remember having a conversation with this guy, he impressed me’.
From a gameplay perspective, our guys thrive on the stage. I think that says a lot, we have guys like Kina (CB13) and Gradient who have been doing it for what feels like a decade now. That always makes you feel better when you look across the stage at the team you’re going up against. For me, I love the stage—it’s the closest thing I’ll get to being back on the court. Just that energy is definitely different and I’m glad we’re back on the stage.”
5. What are your expectations headed into THE TURN?
“Expectations always remain the same. Step by step, I want to make it out of pool play, for both 5v5 and 3v3. I think we have a better idea as to what we need to do out on the court. From a 5v5 perspective, we made a few changes—nothing major, just a few small changes that will benefit us in the long run, and it’s shown in practice so far, so I’m super excited about that.
And of course, I want to make some money, I want to win. I haven’t won a banner, and I don’t think the Warriors have won a banner since former coach Tommy Abdenour was here in season two, when they almost swept everything. So I want to win both (5v5 and 3v3) banners, which will definitely give us some momentum. I know it’s possible, this season is definitely up for grabs and with us having our five back, I just need the guys to turn that switch. I know we have an entire other level we can get to, and these first few tournaments woke us up in a sense.”
1. Go-to pregame meal?
Rustin will like this answer: Chicken Tenders
2. Favorite artist right now?
3. Ideal way to spend time off?
4. Favorite sport outside of basketball?
5. Something people in the 2K community probably don’t know about you?
I own an Amazon FBA Business
6. Favorite part about the job?
Helping young men develop on and off the sticks
7. If you weren’t working in basketball, what would you be doing?
Warriors Gaming Squad is 2-0 after the first week of group play in THE TURN, taking down Bucks Gaming (61-59) and Pistons GT (57-52) to begin the tournament. The team will continue its tournament run next week on Tuesday (May 31) for a TIPOFF rematch against Kings Guard Gaming. Tune in to the NBA 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube channels to catch all of the action, with coverage beginning at 4PM PST.