Neumann-Goretti's Newton to play on despite death of his mother.

Posted: March 21, 2014

AS HE HAS done countless times before, Ja'Quan Newton walked into the Ss. Neumann-Goretti High gymnasium yesterday ready for practice.

Just 2 days removed from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Catholic League history and just a day from playing for the Class AAA state title, the 6-3 senior guard hoisted shots with teammates and exchanged witty banter with friends.

All the elements that comprise his game - smooth jumper, shifty ballhandling and excellent court vision - were present. So too was the trademark, unwavering smile opponents have come to dread.

But, that smile belied a difficult reality. That morning, Newton's mother, Lisa Brown, died after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Newton, who lived with his mother in Southwest Philadelphia (53rd and Florence), politely declined to talk after practice so teammated Jamal Custis and coach Carl Arrigale lent their voices.

"When I first heard about it, it really hurt because he's one of my closest friends," said the senior Custis. "I went to go see him right after school. He's a strong kid. I just told him that anything he needs, he can talk to me.

"They were real close. She used to come to all the games. He did it for her. Everything he did was for her, and when she got sick everything was more dedicated to her. And when she passed it hit all of us."

Brown was not in attendance on Tuesday when her son topped the all-time CL scoring list with 21 points (1,939) in a semifinal victory. And missing games was a rare occurrence.

"We were in Binghamton [N.Y.] a few years ago and we had three fans and she was one of them," said Arrigale. "I know she was his No. 1 fan and they were really close."

Arrigale lost his mother, Marlene, to cancer when he was in his 20s.

"He's held it in a lot," Arrigale said. "I've tried to talk to him about it a few times, but everybody deals with things differently and I respect that so I just let him know that it happened to me and that if he needed somebody to talk about it, I'm here."

The Saints will face Susquehanna Township in Hershey tonight at 8 p.m. Newton is likely to play and Custis was only slightly surprised to see him at practice yesterday.

"I am, but we kind of expected it," Custis said. "We knew he would come in here. It's his last game and he wants to win the championship. We knew he would come in here and be a leader."

Newton, who lives with his brother Cary Rudd, has received support from his father, Joe Newton, and various family members and friends.

"He's a tough kid," Arrigale said. "One of the last things she did say to me was, 'I'm a fighter, coach. That's where he gets it from.' "

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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