Last February, when the Augusta Christian Schools boys' varsity basketball team won the Region 4-AAA title, AC coach Mike Gold climbed a ladder and began to cut down another net.
The Lions had captured their fifth consecutive region championship, and Gold was ready for the occasion - he donned a glove on which each finger signified a region title.
Now, as the Lions enter the 2001-02 season, Gold is taking the gloves off.
That much was clear during AC's season-opener with Curtis Baptist on Tuesday night at the Lions Den, where Augusta Christian used brute force to crush the Crusaders 67-39.
With John Harris - AC's starting point guard the past two years - transferring to Evans High School, Gold has retooled his squad this season.
Lee Jones and Jordan Belcher each scored 25 points Tuesday, proving that guard play is still AC's forte, but inside players Scott Bodden (6-6), Mark Herrmann (6-5) and Ryan Ferguson (6-4) helped the Lions out-muscle Curtis under the boards.
Adapting to a more physical style could take some time; several AC players were whistled during the first-half foul fest with Curtis.
"I looked up, and I was scared. We had four or five starters on the bench with two fouls apiece," Gold said. "I didn't even know who we had in the game at one time there."
The Crusaders managed to take a 16-13 first-quarter lead, but the Lions eventually settled down and put the game away.
Augusta Christian Schools' senior Lee Jones scored 25 points during the win over Curtis Baptist during their season opener Tuesday.
Photo by Mike Howell
"The first quarter was a wake-up call for us. I've told these guys ever since we made the transition from a mediocre program to a very good program that everybody is going to play their best game against Augusta Christian," Gold said. "There's no taking a night off. We've just got to keep working. Nothing's going to come easy."
For that matter, things are not going to be easy for AC's opponents, especially when point guards Brandon Kimm, Tyler Maples and Cole Rabun settle into Gold's system.
"Our issues are the same - we need some leadership at point guard. Our goals haven't changed; region titles, state championships - nothing's different," Gold said. "Then again, we have one senior (Jones). They're puppies, basically. What I need to do is make these puppies full-grown dogs. That just comes from hard work and determination."
The Augusta Christian girls also opened their season Tuesday night at home against Curtis.
The Lady Lions lost eight seniors to graduation, but the inexperienced players passed their first test by posting a 65-58 overtime victory.
"I think a loss here would have been discouraging because we are so young," Augusta Christian coach Jodie Price said. "It was a real blessing for us to come away with a good win. This was important to set the tone for the season."
Senior Melissa Wright and junior Crystin Cromer are the only returning players with varsity experience. Cromer contributed in the paint and Wright came through with 16 points and a solid defensive effort against Curtis.
Meanwhile, sophomore forward Virginia Wright added 16 points, and junior guard Stephanie Byler poured in 18. Byler also converted several steals into critical buckets during the overtime period.
The Lady Lions did have some turnover problems, and Curtis guard Meggie Bruce gave AC fits while scoring 41 points.
Still, Price was satisfied to see her team make some early strides.
"We're a totally new team, a different team than we were last year. It's been fun with the new group. They've got great chemistry," Price said. "As far as winning a certain number of games, we haven't set those type of goals. We're focusing on triple-threat (protecting the ball), catching the ball, blocking out and rebounding and communication. If we do those four things, good things are going to come our way."
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