C.M. Newton, a Basketball Hall of Famer who spent time as a player, head coach, athletic director and executive, died Monday at age 88.
Newton’s passing was announced by officials at both Kentucky and Alabama, universities where Newton made his biggest impact in the sport.
A member of the 1951 NCAA championship team at Kentucky as a basketball player — and a baseball player who appeared briefly in the New York Yankees’ farm system — Newton had a post-playing career that lasted half a century, including 20 total seasons as a head coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt.
His biggest imprint off the court was at Kentucky, where in 1989 upon being hired as athletic director, Newton took charge of a once-proud Wildcats basketball program reeling from NCAA violations and probation under Eddie Sutton. Newton’s first hire was Rick Pitino, who four seasons later led Kentucky to the Final Four and won a national title in 1996. His second men’s hoops coaching hire, Tubby Smith, led the Wildcats to an NCAA championship in his first season in 1998.
While at Kentucky, Newton also hired the university’s first women’s assistant coach for a Division I men’s team, Bernadette Mattox, who later became the first African-American coach of the Wildcats’ women’s program.
“We lost a wonderful person today in C.M. Newton,” Smith said in a statement. “I want to first send out our dearest condolences to his wife, Nancy, his three children and all of their relatives. Coach Newton has been a mentor for me for a number of years and has guided my career from the first time I met him. He has always encouraged me and other coaches to be involved with the National Association of Basketball Coaches and help influence the game of basketball. He was a pioneer in a lot of areas, including having the courage to hire an African-American as coach at Kentucky and to recruit African-American players at Alabama. He was a man that didn’t see color and was a genuine, caring man that we’ll miss dearly and that we loved dearly.”
Current Kentucky men’s coach John Calipari expressed condolences Monday night.
“An hour or so ago, C.M. Newton passed away,” Calipari tweeted. “Please keep him and his family in your prayers. During one of the most trying times of our athletic department, he came to the rescue and put us on the path we are (on) today. May you rest in peace, my friend.”
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart in a statement, “C.M. Newton is a giant in the history of the University of Kentucky, the Southeastern Conference and in the sport of basketball. As a student-athlete, he was a national champion basketball player and star baseball pitcher. He returned to his alma mater when he was needed most and provided stability, leadership and growth for UK Athletics for more than a decade. His coaching accomplishments and honors at Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt speak for themselves.”
Aside from his success as a Division I head coach, where he was a six-time SEC Coach of the Year with seven 20-win seasons, and his experience leading Kentucky basketball back to prominence, Newton was also the president of USA Basketball from 1992-96. During his tenure, his decision to allow professional basketball players to represent the United States in the Olympics set the stage for the iconic “Dream Team” in 1992.
In addition to being elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2000, he was named to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 for his legacy not only in coaching and administration, but also for his influential role on several committees that led to major rule changes such as the addition of the shot clock and 3-point arc in college basketball. He later was chairman of the NIT selection committee.
Newton’s first head coaching job was in 1956 with NAIA school Transylvania University, then known as Transylvania College, in Lexington, Ky. Both there and at his first Division I position at Alabama in 1968, Newton recruited the schools’ first-ever black players.
“C.M. was present at my first press conference when I arrived at Alabama back in April of 2015 and was always very supportive,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said in a statement Monday. “He welcomed me with open arms and was so instrumental in my transition to The University of Alabama. C.M. impacted so many people in the world of basketball on the collegiate and professional levels and with USA basketball. His spirit will continue to live on, and we will strive to make him proud of us each and every day.”
Newton’s son, Martin, is currently the athletic director at Samford. Newton’s first wife, Evelyn, died in 2000. He is survived by three children, along with his second wife, Nancy, whom he married in 2002.
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