Bethlehem Christian Academy head boys’ basketball coach Rusty Watson saw the Knights correct several mistakes from a season-opening 77-39 loss to Westminster Christian Academy on Nov. 9 to a 59-52 overtime victory over the same team a week later on Nov. 16. Then came a 73-44 rout of Sugar Hill Christian on Thursday, Nov. 18. 

For Watson, those were good signs that the Knights (2-1) will be competitive and contend for a fourth-straight state playoff berth with a roster replenished by the addition of a handful of BCA football players. But there is plenty of room for growth, he said, and the Knights are looking to develop more depth quickly after being hit hard by graduation.

“We’ve got a good, young core,” said Watson. “Only one senior, but a strong sophomore and junior group that we’re building around. They might be young, but they’ve played together a good bit.”

Watson is the fourth head coach for the Knights in as many seasons, but he’s no stranger to the program or the 10 players on the roster, given this is actually his third year at BCA. Watson was a junior-varsity head coach and a varsity assistant under Kevin Hall for last winter’s playoff team, and he coached the current sophomore class to a middle school state championship in the 2019-20 season.

“It’s huge already having that relationship and knowing everybody and the parents,” Watson said. “We went on a team retreat together before the season and had a chance to bond even more. It’s a tight-knit group.”

After graduating five seniors and losing a prospective senior starter in Luke Sheats as a transfer back to Winder-Barrow, the Knights have only one senior in 6-foot-4 forward Adonis Alston, who is making his return to the floor after sitting out his junior season following a serious knee injury his sophomore year. But Watson said BCA’s team strength this year — perimeter shooting — will revolve around four key players, three juniors and a sophomore.

One of those juniors, Ben Reed, had an immediate impact in his entrance onto the floor after the conclusion of football season with an 18-point, 7-rebound effort in last week’s win over Westminster Christian. Reed hit four 3-pointers on the night, including a regulation buzzer-beater that forced overtime and led to the win after the Knights shut out the Lions in the extra period. He followed that performance up with 10 points and 5 steals in the win over Sugar Hill Christian.

“He’s one of our biggest leaders on the team and is very energetic,” Watson said of Reed, who was the football team’s starting quarterback this fall and helped lead the Knights to a school-record seven wins. Watson has gained plenty of familiarity with Reed personally while serving as BCA’s quarterbacks coach in addition to his basketball duties.

“We have a good relationship,” Watson said. “We bond and feed off each other. I can coach him pretty hard, and he respects it and takes it and turns that into good leadership for the rest of the team.”

The Knights return junior Timmy Doolittle, the team’s starting point guard who saw significant minutes last year and whom Watson described as a “hard-nosed player and a hard worker.” He led the Knights with 20 points in Thursday's win.

Junior Mattox Harden, a multi-sport athlete who sat out last year to focus on baseball, returned to the hardwood this year and has been a key factor for the Knights early, pouring in 25 points and 15 rebounds in the season opener and following that up with 10 rebounds and 5 assists in the Nov. 16 win over Westminster. Doolittle had 14 points in that victory, as did sophomore Johnny Dickinson, who emerged as a promising young player as a freshman on the varsity last season.

Dickinson was even better in the Sugar Hill game, notching 16 points and an eye-popping 10 steals. 

“He’s got good speed, he can score anytime, and he plays great defense,” Watson said of Dickinson. “He’s special.”

Juniors Miles Jernigan, Dylan Shafer and Cole Ogle and sophomores Elijah Goddard and Tanner Gee round out the varsity roster, and Watson is looking to that group to supply good depth off the bench.

“We feel like our ability to shoot the ball outside the arc is a plus. Anybody can knock down a shot at any time, and that helps us stretch the floor and have good spacing,” Watson said. “But the overall depth is an issue. We had four guys foul out (in the overtime win), and so I had to put a bunch of younger players without much experience in. And they held their own, but that depth is going to be huge as the season goes on.”

The Knights are currently on a Thanksgiving hiatus until Nov. 30, when they’re set to host Loganville Christian Academy. They’ll then host Monsignor Donovan on Dec. 3 before opening GISA Region 4-AAA play Dec. 7 at Young Americans Christian. The Knights will play a handful of other non-region games to close out December before beginning their region schedule in earnest Jan. 7 at John Milledge Academy, the defending state champion which returns several players, was bolstered by the addition of transfers and is a favorite for another title.

“It’s a tough region and a tough schedule, no doubt,” Watson said. “We just want to compete. Our slogan this year is ‘whatever it takes,’ and we want to go out on the floor every night and live that out and play hard and well against whoever we’re up against. Our guys did a really good job of that in that comeback overtime win, so it was good to see the fight in this group early on.”

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