PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: First Baptist boys win first IACS crown

Mar. 12—DANVILLE — The First Baptist boys basketball team had always gotten close, but never got to hold the IACS Boys Championship.

But after this year's tournament at Jacksonville, the Knights did get that chance after winning the title game against O'Fallon's First Baptist Christian Academy, 50-32, recently.

"We won junior high, but we have never won the high school title, so this is a highlight for them and it is a lot of years coming," First Baptist coach Ken Seest said. "You are starting to see the team feed itself. The junior high guys that won state are now key guys on the varsity level."

The team was led by the Watson brothers. Senior Jeremiah Watson, who signed a letter of intent to play at Olivet Nazarene University, was the top scorer for the team.

"I started coaching him in seventh grade," Seest said. "We say in coaching that a player has it and he had it but he was always small. I said if he ever grows, he will be a great player and he did. He has worked so hard in his game. He gets up early and does work before school and he puts in a good hour and a half before school and he does a work out after school. He has worked hard the last two summers. He has spent time in camps and he done a lot to get better and it has happened. He is seeing the rewards of that. He's a leader and when you have a guy like that, it makes a huge difference."

While Jeremiah took advantage of the scoring, brother Josiah Watson has become the team's defensive stopper.

We stick him on the other team's best offensive player," Seest said of the sophomore. "He is six-feet tall and he's athletic enough to cover bigger guys. He went a gains a good player in state who was 6-6 and held him down and in the next game, he faced a 6-foot point guard and he held him. So there is a lot of things he could do and he can gets steals and that leads to buckets.

"I think he is great defensively because he plays against his brother. They go at it in practice and it has made him better because he is playing him every day."

While the Watson brothers were a focal point, Seest said it was a team effort as the rest of the Knights had big moments this season.

"Eli Epling was the second-leading scorer. He is a 3 forward who is athletic and led us in rebounding this year," Seest said. "He's a multi-dimensional guy who can score on the outside and inside and had a tremendous season. We have the big guy in the middle in Nevin Harris who is 6-5 and 220. He's a strong kid and he is a rim protector and does the dirty work.

"Jaivon Nelson plays incredible defense and is a a great team guy. He will have a game where he scored 15-20 points and the next night, he may get 10 assists, so you never know what you are going to get from him. He does the little things that make us go and he plays strong defense.

"We have a couple of guys off the bench: Robert Remington shot the 3 extremely well for us and is a real hustler. Josiah Davis played the front line for us and was a tremendous rebounder and defensive player and his offense exploded in the end."

The Knights were not the biggest team going into the tournament, but they were able to still get past Marquette Manor Baptist Academy 61-49 and Mississippi Valley Christian 64-49 to advance to the final.

"You get the final eight teams down there and we were not the biggest team physically," Seest said. "You had a variety of teams and you had to adjust to that. The team we played in the semifinals had kids who were 6-6 and 6-4 and we were lucky to not get dunked on. First Baptist had a bunch of seniors that played together and they were a strong defensive team. We had to guard the perimeter well because thy were a great shooting team."

The Knights end the season with an 18-3 record and the accomplishment of winning the program's first title is something that will be looked at in the future.

"It is amazing because we are a smaller school and the younger guys look up to the older guys and they have set a bar that can be done," Seest said. "We had come up short twice and came up short. They have been working their way there and that is what I appreciated. It will go down in the archives in history that has been accomplished and hopefully it will be done again, but it will be tough."