By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - At 4 feet 5 inches tall, starting point guard Julian Newman stands waist high next to other players on his Florida high school basketball team. But his talent towers over the competition.
A video of Newman's game highlights and dribbling stunts posted in December on YouTube went viral, currently logging nearly 3 million viewers.
Julian, who is only 11, leads the state of Florida in assists per game this season and ranks fifth nationally, according to Maxpreps.com, which maintains statistics on high school sports. The pint-sized prodigy easily shoots three-pointers from the longer-range NBA line and was invited to show off his skills at halftime during an Orlando Magic game.
"He was born with a God-given gift. He was born with that passion and that drive. And he stayed focused to get where he is today," said his coach and father Jamie Newman.
While others watch in wonder, Julian remains grounded.
"It's something I love to play and really have nothing better to do than get better at basketball," he said on Friday when asked what basketball means to him.
Right now, at 70 pounds and wearing a size 4 shoe, Julian's modest frame is swallowed up by the smallest available varsity basketball uniform. To keep it from falling off during play, he tightens the shoulders of the jersey with a girl's hair tie, and rolls the waistband of his shorts.
His father said doctors think Julian will top out at about 5 feet 10 inches, which is short, but not unheard of for the professional basketball player he aspires to be.
At 5 feet 3 inches retired point guard Tyrone 'Muggsy' Bogues is the shortest ever player in the NBA and scored more than 6,800 points over a 14 season career that ended in 2001. Another point guard, Anthony 'Spud' Webb, measured only 5'7" yet played 12 seasons in the NBA before retiring in 1998 after amassing more than 8,000 points, even winning the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1986, despite being the shortest contestant.
Newman said Julian's talent became apparent at age 4 when he outplayed 7-year-olds on league teams.
"He was real small. But he could still weave his way in and out and score. So we knew at that time if he keeps this up he's going to be a terrific player, maybe the best ever," Newman said.
Although both parents, well under 6 feet tall themselves, played high school ball and Newman has spent his career coaching high school teams, Newman said they weren't pushy parents.
"He was the one pushing me to train him more," Newman said. "He sleeps with the ball. He's gone to the bathroom with the ball. Every time we go on a vacation we have to find a basketball court for him. If we go to the grocery store he's dribbling the ball. No matter where he goes, he has his ball."
Julian transferred from public schools, which don't field basketball teams for the elementary grades, to Downey Christian School in Orlando this year after Newman got a job as the private school's head varsity basketball coach.
Newman put Julian on the high school team, which ended last season with a 3-18 record, but this year stands at 20-5 with two games remaining.
Julian said his favorite player, and the one he models himself after, is 6-foot Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
"He's an all around player and he can pass, shoot, dribble. He's kind of like me, that's why I like him. I try to do the moves he does and play like him," Julian said.
Other than basketball, Julian said he likes reading and math at school, and hanging out with friends in his free time.
"We mostly play basketball," Julian said.
(Editing by David Adams. Editing by Andre Grenon)