Rams to Watch: Blessed Mbogo and Twins Naila and Nia Newman

Andrew Coulibaly and Matthew DiFonzo

Blessed Mbogo, Boys Basketball

Junior forward Blessed Mbogo has grown into a versatile player and valuable asset for the boys varsity basketball team in his second year, rising to the occasion and aiding the team on their division title.

Although Mbogo is hard of hearing, it does not show on the court according to coaches and teammates. He is a part of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program (DHOH) which provides services to students in grades K-12 who have educationally significant hearing loss.

To play more effectively with Mbogo, the team worked together to overcome the communication barrier.

“Because I’m hard of hearing, we had to come up with hand signs for separate plays to make sure I know what we are doing,” Mbogo said.

Coach Todd Dembroski likes using signals for clear communication on the court as well.

“From the coach’s point of view, I don’t see us lacking any communication. When he’s on the court, he is very good at picking up cues,” Dembroski said.

Mbogo has scored a total of 42 points for this season’s basketball games compared to last season where he scored eight points, according to the Washington Post AllMetSports database.

When Mbogo began playing basketball for the JV team his freshman year, he was not as crucial to the team as he is today, he said. He continued to struggle finding a niche on the varsity team during the 2017 season.

“When I first played basketball on varsity after the JV season my sophomore year, my issue was finding a role on the team… I had to learn how to play a completely different position and it was kind of hard to adjust at first,“ Mbogo said.

When it’s not basketball season, Mbogo practices tirelessly to improve his basketball skills by following his workout routine which has led to a drastic increase in his capabilities.

“[In] the offseason, I lift for about an hour or more and spend at least two hours practicing my basketball skills on the court every day, except Sunday,” he said.

The effort put forth by Mbogo has paid off and an improvement in his skills has been noticed by Coach Dembroski, who is coaching for his third season at RHS.

“[Mbogo] made a ton of progress between his ninth and tenth-grade year so we brought him up to varsity, [and] he has been a big contributor to the team,” Dembroski said.

In addition to the hand signals used by the team, Dembroski has created a team culture of camaraderie and positivity, so Mbogo’s teammates have been accepting of him and helped to nurture his growth and place on the team.

The team atmosphere is very good-natured. The hard-working attitude is there, but we also have some fun too,” team manager Matthew Pittman said.

Mbogo is a valuable player because he is so versatile, Dembroski said. Through consistent practice of various skills such as shooting and defense, Mbogo has become talented at a variety of different positions.

“He [Mbogo] is a very well-rounded basketball player. He has a lot of strengths and not many weaknesses,” Dembroski said. “He is a very good shooter, he’s one of the best on the team and he is big and athletic so he is a good rebounder, a solid defender.”


Naila and Nia Newman, Girls Basketball

Freshmen twins Naila Newman and Nia Newman are new to RHS but with ambitious goals on the basketball court they are also fulfilling a key role on the girls varsity basketball team, largely contributing to the team’s accomplishments during the 2018-19 season.

For the twin sisters, basketball is everything to them. Naila Newman, point guard and Nia Newman, guard have practice six times a week for the RHS team and are constantly training outside of school as well to improve their game. Although just freshman, the twins start each game and play as an experienced unit and provide many benefits to the squad.

“I think I bring a lot of energy and determination to the team as we begin to win more games and grow together as a team and individuals,” Nia Newman said. “I like to hype everyone up before the game knowing that we have a good chance to win and do good in the game.”

Naila Newman began playing basketball in the third grade for a non-competitive church league. Nia Newman began playing basketball when she was in the fifth grade and both have been playing together ever since.

The speed and ball handling of the Newman sisters have allowed for a different team dynamic than the Rams have seen in recent years. Last season, ball handling and breaking full-court pressure was not viewed as the team’s strong suit. However, with the help of the Newman twins, this has changed for the 2018-19 season.

Nia is 5 feet 5 inches tall while Naila is 5 feet tall, allowing Nia to be a strong asset for the Rams on the defensive and offensive end through getting rebounds. Naila’s smaller size and speed allows for her to be a strong point guard and ball handler for the team.

The twins could not imagine playing basketball without each other because of the chemistry they have built between each other, they said.

“Having Nia with me on the court is special. We have such a vibe where we know what’s going on with each other and know when each of us has an opportunity to score or steal the ball,” Naila Newman said. “Having her with me makes me so much better because she helps me improve and I do the same for her.”

Nia Newman said she recognizes the benefit of having somebody she is close to off the court motivate her on the court as well.

“Having a sister, especially a twin sister on the court makes me feel very lucky. Not a lot of people have someone to depend on and work with while on the court but I have a better advantage,” Nia Newman said. “She pushes me to be better and continue to go above and beyond. Even during games we can give each other a ‘look’ and know what to do– to score or help each other to score. If I did not have her on the court with me, I do not think I would be the player that I am today.”

Nia and Naila Newman are focused on improving their game throughout the year. During the offseason, they play basketball for the 1onNone team in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) league. This league allows for the twins to improve their basketball IQ and dynamic to their game. It also keeps them busy and playing the sport in which they love to play.

“I feel like they have an unmatched love for the game. They are both hustlers and scorers,” senior guard Emily Huynh said.