Trojans stay focused, achieve title goal
After a disappointing end to last season, the Wesleyan Christian Academy boys were set on accomplishing much more. They thoroughly challenged themselves and, in the end, achieved their ultimate goal of winning a state title.
The top-seeded Trojans clinched their first state championship since 1993 with a strong second-half performance en route to a 59-49 win over third-seeded Greensboro Day on Saturday night at Providence Day in the NCISAA 3A finals.
“It feels awesome,” senior Trey Chapman said. “And it couldn’t have come in a better week. As you may know, I lost a brother this week (basketball player Josh Level). This was for him. This was more than a game today.
“It was defense,” he said. “We had the most length in the state, and we had to use it. Last year, we didn’t use it. This year, we did. What also helped us was the competition we faced. We played tough games, suffered tough losses, but it prepared us for this.”
Wesleyan compiled an extremely challenging schedule, facing national powerhouses including Lone Peak and Huntington Prep as well as nonconference state contenders including Christ School and Providence Day — to name only a few.
The idea was to steel the Trojans for the road ahead — for the conference, for the state playoffs. While scheduling tough games doesn’t always guarantee success, Wesleyan thrived in taking and applying the lessons it learned from the experience.
“There’s no question. The tough schedule is really what you live for,” said coach Keith Gatlin, who praised the school administration, students and fans for their support. “When you have highly ranked kids on a nice stage, you’ve got to play tough competition.
“Plus, the traveling and the team bonding on the road. After we lost to Greensboro Day the first time, we didn’t lose again. And that was the schedule. Last year, people would get up on us or cut us down. This year, with the schedule and how we prepared, it was just a blessing.”
Of their five losses, four came against some of the most elite programs in the country — an eight-point loss to St. John Bosco, a four-point loss to Christ the King, a four-point loss to Huntington Prep, and a four-point loss to Lone Peak.
Their goal was to not lose a game in North Carolina. The lone misstep was a frustrating loss at Greensboro Day in mid-January. Since then, though, they won 10 straight games and played some of their best basketball of the year in doing so.
“We were prepared. We played everybody tough,” said freshman Harry Giles, who led with 18 points in the final. “We knew that nobody was nearly as skilled and nearly as big as us. … When we play together and play defense, we can’t be beat.”
Wesleyan, after winning the PACIS and clinching the top seed for the playoffs, gritted out a 15-point win against Ravenscroft in the state quarterfinals, then edged rival High Point Christian by seven to reach the finals against the Bengals.
The Trojans, who were led by a some of the top recruits in the country, including Giles and juniors Theo Pinson and JaQuel Richmond, had simply too much depth, too much talent, too much determination over 32 minutes to be denied.
“Their talent took over in the fourth quarter,” Greensboro Day coach Freddy Johnson said. “We just didn’t have the legs to keep up with them at the end of three games in three days. The way we play defense — nobody plays defense like we do.
“We’re out there getting after you. But give Coach Gatlin credit — he’s done a great job with this team. Since they lost to us, they’ve gone a real run, and the good thing is that during this run he’s done a great job making his kids work harder.”
Although Wesleyan does lose several notable contributors from its lineup next year, it should return a significant portion of its championship roster — once again setting its sights very high.
“The kids really understood that when you’re highly ranked that teams will come at you every night,” Gatlin said. “And it’s going to be tougher next year because we won, and we’ll be the biggest game on everyone’s schedule.
“So, it goes with the territory,” he said. “But, thank God, we’ll be ready for it.”