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Walls hopes to lead Knights in the future

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POSTED: July 23, 2014 11:00 a.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Rising Junior Jacob Walls led the 2013-14 BCA Knights’ basketball team in scoring and was an All-Region selection for GISA 1-A.

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Bethlehem Christian Academy basketball wrapped up a dream season in the winter of 2014, reaching the second-round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history. 

Upcoming junior Jacob Walls had a not inconsiderable part to play in the team’s success as he was the team’s leading scorer and a member of the GISA 1-A All-Region team.

Basketball has been a part of Walls’ life for some time now. As with most high school athletes, he was exposed to basketball at a young age and learned to enjoy it and other sports he tried his hand at.

“I was always kind of told when I was younger that I could play multiple sports and I always liked basketball,” BCA two-sport athlete Jacob Walls said. “I never really thought that I’d be at this kind of level, but when I got to BCA my level kind of picked up and Coach Barth helped me a lot and drew me to it.”

With Bethlehem’s former varsity men’s basketball head coach Mark Barth announcing his resignation earlier this summer, Walls knows that next season will be strange without the former chief calling the shots, but he also has high hopes that BCA will continue to grow and improve without their coach.

“It’s tough, but knowing that he’s still going to be around and coming to our games and I’m still going to talk to him and he’s going to help me out and tell me what I need to do better…it’s tough, but he’s still going to be around,” Walls acknowledged.

“I’m going to miss him. He was a great coach.”

According to Walls, Barth’s greatest success was casting the vision for Bethlehem to enter the playoffs and then advance to the second-round. 

The Knights did just that. Barth had impressed the entire team with this vision of making the second-round, and so reaching that goal had a profound effect on the team and their mindset.

“He always wanted to make it to the playoffs, and this year he wanted us to make it to the playoffs and get to the next round. To do that, we had to work harder, longer practice, more running, get us into condition. He said what he wanted us to do and we did it. It was big,” Walls pointed out.

After a season’s worth of effort and work, advancing to that second-round after a 60-48 win over Citizens Christian was a key moment for Walls and the entire Bethlehem basketball team. That achievement was not just one win and one game. 

That victory, rather, was the culmination of a dream two years in the making, and it felt like it to all the men on the court.

“It felt good. For the first time ever, them advancing to the next round, it felt good and you could tell looking in Coach Barth’s eyes that it was exciting,” Walls remembered.“And for all the other guys who’d been at BCA like Kevin [Green] and Ben [Morgan], you could tell it was exciting for them, too.

“And to play in a big college like that was amazing,” Walls added. 

The Knights’ second-round game, a 62-40 loss to semifinalist Crisp Academy, was held at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.

While a state playoff berth was exciting for the 2012-13 Knights, and a second-round appearance was the ultimate goal for the 2013-14 squad, this next year’s team will be looking for a new goal and new leadership with the previously senior-laden roster looking somewhat thin of returners.

That being the case, Walls knows that he and his fellow upperclassmen will need to do their part to lead the team in the new season.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking, especially going up to AAA,” Walls admitted. “Then again, me and Jacob Fincher and Luke Allen are going to have to step up and be leaders and keep the team right and keep them focused.”

After playing in GISA Class-A, the Knights are jumping all the way up to the highest classification in the state for GISA athletics. Now, Bethlehem will be facing even greater challenges against larger and often more established schools. 

While Walls understands the challenge ahead for his team, he knows that they have what it takes to compete.

“It’s going to be tougher, but I think it’s also going to help us get a better mentality and it’s going to be tougher so it’s going to make us focus in and make us better,” Walls stated.

Despite some uncertainty and a slew of difficulties awaiting the Knights, Walls admits that he is ready for the new season to begin.

“I’m excited to see who our new coach is going to be and looking forward to seeing how much our team can grow in losing the seniors that we lost,” Walls mentioned. “It’s exciting. I don’t know what else to say.”

As exciting as the new basketball season will be for Walls and the entire team, and as exciting as last year’s foray into second-round playoffs action, his most treasured experience of the last year might have likely been winning a state championship as part of Bethlehem Christian Academy’s baseball team.

“It was amazing. A new coach, no seniors, we were young. I don’t think very many people thought we would get there,” Walls admitted. “It was tough. We had a couple three-round games, and we made it. It was amazing. I never thought I’d be there.”

The Knights won a best-of-three series against Crisp Academy on Saturday, May 31 after splitting the first two games Friday evening. Crisp took the first game decisively, but the Knights held a multiple-run lead late in Game Two. 

Crisp would fight back, though, and make it interesting with a play at home in the final inning to preserve Bethlehem’s lead. The Knights then had their own convincing win in Game Three to take home their second consecutive state title.

“It’s the best feeling. I was speechless and in the bottom of the dog pile, and it was awesome. I thought going into Game Three that it was kind of nerve wracking, but Coach [Colby] May got us focused in and got us ready to go. We still had fun even if it was Game Three,” Walls explained. “We didn’t get all tightened up. We stayed loose and had fun. It was all about having fun, and he got us through it.”

While a lot of athletes are choosing to focus on one sport and spend all year developing their talents in one arena, Walls personally enjoys getting to spend his time on both baseball and basketball. There may not be as many obvious transferable skills between the two, but there are still benefits of doing both according to Walls.

“It’s tiring, but it also keeps me in shape for both sports and it shows people that I’m not just a one-sport man. It just keeps me going all around and it’s what I like to do, so I do it,” Walls stated.

With two more years for Walls to play the two sports he loves, the young athlete knows exactly what he wants to see from his team and from himself in the little remaining time he has.

For starters, he wants the Knights to keep on winning.

“With basketball going to AAA, I want to see us still go to the playoffs and advance even farther than we did. Losing a lot of seniors, it’s going to be tough, but I think we can do it if we stay focused in,” Walls said of his winter sport before turning to his spring sport.

“For baseball, not losing any seniors and keeping everybody, the goal is definitely to win another state championship. Of course, it’s not going to be as easy, but I think through the years we’ve kind of still faced some of those teams even if they were AAA,” Walls added.

Individually, Walls knows that his own growth as an athlete can only help the team’s success in the long run. 

“I want to grow points wise and defensively. I want to get my defense better and help the team out and be more of a leader,” Walls said. “Same thing for baseball, I want to be more of a leader where I can show other people what to do and where I can learn from them what it means to be a leader.”

Although Walls still has two more years as a Knight, he hopes that he can continue his athletic career on to and through college. One perk of baseball at Bethlehem Christian Academy according to Walls is spending time with Coach May, who himself recently spent time in the program at UGA. 

Working with a coach who is so used to the Division I baseball scene should help Walls and the other baseball players at the school pump up their resumes come college recruitment season.

“Coach May helps out a lot. He’ll help me out a bunch with college baseball,” Walls stated, also mentioning his intent to consider and plan for college basketball. “I played summer baseball and hope to get a couple looks in both sports.”

Walls transferred to Bethlehem from Winder-Barrow at the start of his sophomore year and has enjoyed his time so far with the Knights saying, among other things, he enjoys the smaller environment and the more individual work with coaches and teachers.

“It feels good, especially being able to represent a good, Christian school like Bethlehem,” Walls said.

The Knights will face some unique and seemingly insurmountable challenges this year as they look forward to time in the highest classification in GISA sports, so some people may expect a drop off in the school’s athletic success during year one.

Walls, on the other hand, expects the exact opposite. In his mind, the Knights’ best years are ahead of them.

“I don’t want people to doubt us as we’re going up to AAA. Even our football team is working their tails off right now and they’re expecting to have a decent season, even if they are moving up to AAA,” Walls explained. “The same is true for basketball and baseball. Even though we’ve lost a lot of seniors, we’re working hard.”

The school’s unofficial motto over the last season has been “BCA Tough,” and that is exactly the spirit Walls hopes to instill in himself and his team as they enter the 2014-15 season.

“I don’t know who started it, but I like it.”

 

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