It's not that Devonté "DJ" Newbill dislikes the environment at Strawberry Mansion High. In fact, he loves it.

But if the calendar were to speed ahead to Graduation Day, and then remain in months-flying-by mode all the way until next winter, he would not complain.

That's how it is for basketball stars headed for Division I programs. They know they're going to succeed and they can't wait to get started. For Newbill, that feeling is personified because he finds himself on one of those rolls.

First the disclaimer: In all-star games, the nearest defender is often a time zone away.

Now for the fact: Newbill has connected on 14 of his 15 last shots (93 percent).

In one of three games in the 35th annual Public League Coaches' All-Star classic last Wednesday, the 6-4 wing guard, a Marquette signee, went 6-for-6 from the floor en route to 14 points as North Philly swamped South Philly, 126-101.

Then came yesterday . . . .

This occasion was the 24th annual All-Star Labor Classic, played at La Salle University to benefit United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia & Vicinity. Though City fell to Suburbs, 146-144, as a last-second, right-corner trey by Mustafaa Jones (Ss. Neumann-Goretti) hit the far side of the rim, Newbill experienced the pleasure of going 8-for-9 for 16 points.

"I've been working on my shot a lot," he said.

Ya think?

Newbill and N-G's Tony Chennault (12 points) are good buddies and now, pretty much every day after school, they meet at a gym in the lower Northeast to work on their games.

"I shoot the ball about 300 times. If not 400," Newbill said. "I'm always looking to have a soft shot with a lot of rotation.

"Me and Tony are trying to help each other get better. I'm trying to improve everything about guard play - my handle, shooting, defense, passing."

Also last week, Newbill learned a statewide panel of writers and broadcasters, under the auspices of the Associated Press, had named him the Class AA Player of the Year. Even before then, he said, the sting of having fallen in the state final, to South Fayette, long had disappeared.

"You can't let bad things stay with you. You have to move on," Newbill said. "Let bygones be bygones, right? Even when we came back to school [March 29], the attitude from everybody was great. They knew we had a great year. Just came up a little short."

John Bartram's Quasim Jones led City with 18 points, thanks in part to four treys. Schoolmate Tyrone Garland added 14 points while Chennault and Tyreek Duren combined for 22. Guard Shaquille Shannon (Communications Tech) led in rebounds, with seven, and Roman Catholic's Rakeem "Rahk" Brookins dished four assists.

Two Germantown Academy stalwarts, Cameron Ayers and Austin Curry, helped the Suburbs' cause with 12 and eight points, respectively. Ayers added seven rebounds and six assists.

A seven-point flurry put Suburbs up, 146-139, but Duren's layup and his following three-point play off a pass from Chennault made it 146-144 at 12.6. When Curry missed a layup at 0:09, City had its chance.

Alas, Jones, after taking a pass from Archbishop Carroll's DJ Irving, could not connect from the corner closest to City's bench.

When asked whether the shot looked good from his vantage point nearby, Irving said, "I thought it was."

"I guess I didn't put it up high enough," Jones said, referring to the arc.

"I thought it was good," Newbill said. "I jumped up off the bench, ready to celebrate."

Soon enough, guaranteed, it'll be July and Newbill will be heading to Marquette.

"I'll be taking a summer course or two," he said.

And devoting major hours to becoming an even better player.

"That's how I am," he said. "I do put in the work." *