EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – By simply qualifying for the 2023 Final Four in Houston with four-seed UConn, Burges graduate Tristen Newton is in rarefied air.

Newton is one of just a handful of athletes from the Borderland to ever play in the men’s Final Four, which he will do on Saturday at 6:50 p.m. MT on Saturday vs. five-seed Miami.

Newton joins El Pasoans Togo Railey and David Palacio from the legendary 1966 Texas Western team; El Pasoan John Burgess, Las Cruces natives Rudy Franco and Chito Reyes (New Mexico State, 1970) and David Moseley (Stanford, 1998); and El Paso native Nolan Richardson, who coached Arkansas to three Final Fours, including the 1994 national championship as the only Borderland natives to make the Final Four as a player or coach.

El Paso’s Bobby Dibler made three final fours as a referee: 1981, 1982 and 1985. He officiated the National Championship game in 1982 and 1985.

When the El Paso native made the choice to transfer to UConn from East Carolina in the spring of 2022, the chance to play in the Final Four and compete for a national championship was a big reason Newton made the move.

“I’m pretty proud I came here. I’m glad I made this decision,” he told reporters earlier this week. “The fact that (the Final Four) was in Texas was a big part of the conversation too. I was just trying to get back there and win the whole thing.”

UConn will play in its sixth Final Four this weekend and is perhaps the betting favorite to win its fifth national championship since 1999. Newton would love nothing more than that.

Newton has been a key piece for UConn all season as the team’s starting point guard. He’s the Huskies’ third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game; he’s second in assists (4.6 per game); and he leads the team in steals. Earlier this year, he also became the first UConn player – men’s or women’s – to record two triple-doubles in a single season.

However, his road to Storrs and college basketball’s biggest stage wasn’t without some bumps. Despite scoring over 3,000 career points at Burges while leading the Mustangs to an Elite Eight in 2017 and averaging almost 40 points per game as a senior in 2019, he was scarcely recruited.

Local Division I universities UTEP and New Mexico State never even offered him a scholarship, which may have tainted what other schools outside the Borderland thought of him.

“Even now, a lot of people still don’t give him the credit of what he’s actually doing over there at UConn,” said Newton’s father, Montreal. “Even coming out of high school, scoring 3,000 points, people still didn’t believe in him. He’s always played with that chip on his shoulder and he knows he can make it to the next level.”

Newton chose East Carolina out of high school and he played well for the Pirates for three years. In his final season at ECU, he averaged 17.7 points, 5 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. He refined his defense in those three seasons as well and when Joe Dooley was fired after the 2021-22 season, Newton entered the NCAA Transfer Portal.

“Tristen Newton became a complete player and that’s why now he’s such a great player for UConn,” said Paul Gutierrez Newton’s head coach at Burges.

He was contacted by pretty much every major program in the country, but UConn head coach Dan Hurley’s pitch to Newton rung true. Associate head coach Kimani Young used his familiarity with El Paso (Young played at UTEP) to the Huskies’ advantage and Newton was swayed to come to Storrs.

He’s been exactly what UConn needed this season: A true point guard. It’s something his older brother Jawaun saw years ago when they played together at Burges, before they both moved on to play Division I basketball. Jawaun played four seasons at Evansville before wrapping up his career at Southern Illinois in 2022-23.

“He’s really the general out there on the court. Everything doesn’t flow without him,” said Jawaun. “When he’s on the bench you can tell there’s a difference. It’s all about how he’s managing the game and having his teammates in the right spots.”

Along for the ride during Newton’s run to the Final Four have been his famous cousins, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron jones and former UTEP football standout Alvin Jones. The twins have traveled all over to watch Tristen play this year, including Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament and Las Vegas last weekend for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

They helped foster Tristen’s love for hoops years ago and still support him and Jawaun in all facets of life today.

“They don’t just help on the basketball court, they actually help in life. Those are two great young men and I appreciate them,” said Montreal, who is the brother of the late Alvin Jones Sr.

Newton and UConn have rolled to the Final Four, winning their first four tournament games by an average of 23 points. Two victories away from a national championship, he’s right where he always planned to be and his family will be at NRG Stadium in Houston watching on Saturday.

“We talked about it growing up our whole lives, that he would be here on this stage. It’s good to see him on it now,” said Jawaun.

Added his father, “Tristen has worked hard for this moment. It’s like a feeling that you can’t explain.”

The road has been long and winding for Tristen Newton, but he can cement his name in history this weekend.