Andrew Bryan had a tough act to follow last December, stepping in as interim head coach of the Augusta Christian School boys basketball team when Mike Gold suddenly tendered his resignation.
Now, with the Lions set to tip off their season at home Tuesday against North Cobb Christian, Bryan has another tough act to follow.
After Gold's departure, Bryan had enough poise to guide AC to a sixth-straight Region 4-AAA championship, the Georgia Independent Schools Association state playoff quarterfinals and a final record of 23-5.
That first-year performance was good enough to erase "interim" from his title. Now, the Lions are his team.
"It's been enjoyable, being able to have the guys over the summer, at camp and during the entire preseason," Bryan said. "Of course, I feel a lot more prepared."
There also has to be a feeling of relief, because Jordan Belcher has returned to the Lions Den.
Belcher had enrolled at Greenbrier High School for his senior year, but subsequently was ruled ineligible for athletics by the Georgia High School Association.
Skipping sports wasn't an option for Belcher, so the all-state guard will finish his prep career as a four-year starter for the AC basketball team. As a result, Belcher has a chance to set the school's career scoring record this season.
"He's come back with a great attitude and is ready to go," Bryan said of Belcher. "His deal is baseball, but he's a great athlete in any sport. He's anticipating a great year in basketball."
The Lions also will be bolstered by the addition of Jamal Womble, who transferred from Glenn Hills High School. Womble played summer ball with AC's Scott Bodden, they struck up a friendship and Womble decided to make the move to AC.
Womble, Mark Herrmann, Ryan Ferguson and all-region center Bodden each check in at 6-foot-6, which means the Lions will have formidable size this season.
"We should be pretty physical down low, it's just a matter of whether we can use our size or not," Bryan said. "The funny thing is, they're not all post players - they can shoot the ball from the outside, too."
Although Bryan expressed some concern about his team's inexperience, seniors Bodden, Belcher, Brandon Kimm, Tyler Maples and Matt Lane should help ease those worries.
Augusta Christian's quest for a seventh successive region title will be a real challenge, because region newcomer George Walton is the defending Class AAA state champion.
Meanwhile, strength-training guru Keith Walton takes over as coach of the AC girls this season, and inherits a capable - but extremely young - squad. The Lady Lions also start the season at home Tuesday against North Cobb Christian.
"I've been pleasantly surprised. We have a good group of freshmen," Walton said. "I'd rather not throw them to the wolves, but we'll try to get experience as we go."
The new freshman were part of the unbeaten junior high squad last season. The rising stars include Jordan Little, Jaclyn Fields, Shanice Broadwater, Larrie Reece and Sarah McKinney.
Crystin Cromer is the only senior for AC this season, and will be relied on to provide leadership and point production at forward. The Lady Lions feature a strong junior class, which is led by Virginia Wright, Staci Airaghi and talented twins Sarah and Rebekah Madebach.
The Lady Lions missed the GISA Class AAA state playoffs last season, but thanks to a region realignment for 2002-03, the path to the postseason should be much easier this time around.
There are only five teams in the region, and the top four advance to state, while defending region and state champion Brentwood has dropped down to Class AA this year.
"Brentwood is somebody else's problem now," Walton said. "The region is still going to be tough, because George Walton and John Milledge have everybody coming back this season."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.