The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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High School Sports

March 19, 2014

Crusaders begin quest to reach final goal

The quest for the sixth and final piece for Greater Beckley Christian’s golden season begins tomorrow.

The No. 5 seeded Crusaders take on No. 4 seeded Clay-Battelle at 9 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Class A state tournament.

The trip to Charleston marks the second straight season coach Dan Burd’s team has done so, and he’s hoping to take a different approach this time around, following GBC’s early exit to Tucker County a year ago.

“We’re treating this like a business,” Burd said. “It’s going to be a business-like approach. We’re planning better about when we’re going up, where we’re staying, when we’re going to the game. This year is a little bit different. We’ve just brought them down to focus on the game.”

Last season, Burd admits he was a little bit relaxed with his team, taking them to the Charleston Civic Center early to watch a game — for some their first time watching a game in the historic building.

One such player who isn’t a newbie to the state tournament is grizzled veteran Javonne Staunton-Bailey. Staunton-Bailey previously won a state title with Oak Hill and helped carry the Crusaders to the tournament last season, along with departing senior Keith Mullins.

“He brings a lot of calmness to the team about what to expect,” Burd said. “None of our kids have been to the state championship, so he’s there to talk to the kids. He’s at school with them, he’s calling them and texting them, telling them what it takes to win.”

Staunton-Bailey, who is averaging 18.2 points per game, joins Elisha Kidd (23 ppg) and freshman Isaiah Francis (9.3 ppg) to create one of the more dynamic guard combos around.

“Our guard play is our strength,” Burd said. “I would say the key to our offense is playing team ball and playing in transition.”

The season has had its share of growing pains for Francis, who arrived at GBC this fall with a lot of hype following a successful — and high scoring — career at Park Middle School, but he has settled into his role as a distributor. On top of his nine points, Francis is also averaging six assists and three steals per game.

Burd fully expects Francis to show up in a big way on the biggest stage of his young career.

“The one thing I’ve learned about Isaiah is he embraces the big game,” Burd said. “He’s a lot more focused than normal. I believe Isaiah is going to come out and play a big game. In fact, I think he’s looking forward to it.”

For Kidd, it’s just about continuing what he’s started this season. The quiet iceman for the Crusaders has exploded into one of the region’s hottest talents.

“He has come on so aggressive this year,” Burd added. “It’s a lot different from the past. I haven’t had to push him to get aggressive. He stays aggressive.”

Just as the guard play has become the signature of Greater Beckley Christian, the post play has really come into its own of late.

Brent Daniels, the 6-8 junior is averaging 11.8 points per game to go along with 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. Sophomore Anthony Helton is averaging just over three points and three rebounds.

“Brent’s gotten a lot stronger,” Burd said. He’s really come on lately as what his role is and is scoring more. He’s become more vocal. I think he’s coming along in leadership.

“Anthony’s just a steady, blue collar worker,” he continued. “He’s going to work as hard as anybody on the floor and give all he has on defense.”

Defense will be the name of the game when it comes to dealing with Clay-Battelle’s inside-out attack of Zach Chisler and Cannon Brummage, who along with Jarrett Hockenberry and Tristan Haught make the Cee Bees a quality opponent capable of pulling off the big win.

That’s where the bench experience of Adam Cook and Joseph Cornett come into play.

“Adam is our best defender,” Burd said. “You can’t ask for a kid to do more. He’s a real spark for us. Joseph has been a great addition to our team. I don’t have a problem putting those two kids in. I think they’re always going to give us quality minutes.”

Burd also notes that freshman Courtney Walton has returned from injury and will be available for the Crusaders.

But perhaps the most vital part of Greater Beckley’s bench is the experience that comes from assistant Dave Barksdale.

During Barksdale’s 17 season as head coach of Woodrow Wilson, he made 11 straight trips to the state tournament and brought home five championships.

“Coach Barksdale likes to stay in the background at this point, but he’s got so much wisdom on how to approach the game,” Burd said. “How to get ready to go to states. How to get the kids focused.

“I’ll just be honest, we lean on his wisdom a lot for that. He’s very supportive of us, and I appreciate what he’s done for the program.”

— E-mail: jrollins and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins

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