By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Coach Dan Burd walked into the gym at Greater Beckley Christian School for the first time three years ago with one goal in mind: Creating a culture of winning.
One year after seeing his Crusaders reach the playoffs and make an impact in Class A basketball, Burd’s goal is beginning to come to fruition.
No. 5-ranked Greater Beckley (5-0) will look to continue that growth Friday night when it welcomes No. 4 Tug Valley (3-1) to the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
For Burd, a win over the Panthers would be the signature win for which the former Mingo Christian coach has been looking since arriving in Prosperity. It would also lift the proverbial monkey off the back of his Crusaders squad.
“Getting a win against Tug Valley would be extremely important to us,” Burd said.
And why wouldn’t it be?
On top of the fact that the Panthers are the defending Class A state champions, they were also 3-0 against Greater Beckley Christian a year ago, including a 61-60 heartbreaker in the Convention Center.
It’s a loss that neither Burd or his team have forgotten.
“I told our kids at practice that I wasn’t going to pretend this is just another game,” he said. “It’s a regional game against the reigning state champs — a team we couldn’t get by last year. If we could come out and win this game, it’d be an understatement to say it wouldn’t be big for us.”
If the Crusaders are able to continue scorching the nets the way they have in their first five games, a win may not be too out of question.
GBC is averaging 83.4 points per game, shooting 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.
The success from beyond the arc has come as a surprise to Burd, who saw his top 3-point shooter from a year ago, Keith Mullins, graduate last spring.
“I think that’s the biggest surprise,” Burd said. “I knew we could shoot well from the perimeter last year with Keith and maybe one or two other guys, but this year everybody on the floor can shoot 3s and stretch the defense.”
The Crusaders are led in scoring by junior guard Elisha Kidd, who is averaging 22.4 points per game. He is also 48 percent from beyond the arc, making 15 3-pointers in five games, half as many as he had in 23 games a year ago.
Perhaps another surprise has been the perimeter play of 6-foot-8 junior post Brent Daniels, who has knocked down 10 of 21 3-point attempts.
Not surprising, however, for Burd has been the transition of the highly-discussed point guard Isaiah Francis, who joins the Crusaders after being the leading scorer in the Raleigh County Middle School League a year ago with Park.
Francis, who was normally the go-to guy for the Roadrunners, has settled into a distributor role with the Crusaders, dishing out 33 assists through five games, while averaging just under 9 points per game.
“It’s been a good transition,” Burd said. “He’s accepted his role as the point guard, which I think is the role he’ll be recruited in. Having so many weapons around him has made him a lot better of a ball player. We know we’ve got a point guard that if we need him to do so, can step up and light it up from outside. He’s a big weapon.”
Despite the success on the hardwood, the mission of Greater Beckley Christian has not wavered. If anything, Burd feels it has only grown.
“I feel like the mission of the school has affected the basketball program instead of the basketball program affecting the mission the school,” he said. “I could explain it like this: I was really competitive when I was young. My dad was a pastor and he said to me one time ‘As competitive as you are, I’m surprised you’ve decided to win the game but lose at life.’ And he was saying that if you die without the Lord, you lose. That turned me around. We’re given a competitive spirit but we’ve got to win at life. The mission of the school has impacted us to be winners.”
And while the Crusaders are winning at life, a win against Tug Valley would still be big for Burd, even if it comes while the Panthers are in a “rebuilding” phase after Aaron Muncy, Mikey Newsome and Austin Brewer graduated.
“Obviously it’s hard to replace who they lost,” Burd said. “But there are a few of kids in Kyle Newsome, Calvin Blankenship and Thomas Baisden who have stepped up and are doing a good job. They’re a very good basketball team. We can’t take them lightly.”
The festivities will begin at 5 p.m. Friday when the Lady Crusaders and Lady Panthers take to the court, followed by the boys JV at 6:30 p.m. and the varsity main event scheduled for 8 p.m.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.