Senior guard A.J. Watts is the Player of the Year, and Warren Beaulah is the Coach of the Year, selected by Columbus area coaches and the L-E.
“I worked hard for that,” he said, “staying after practice, working late, trying to be a leader.”
He finished his senior season with stats that show significant contributions to the team in a variety of ways, averaging 21 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals per game.
Watts noted the Tigers didn’t have a lead in the championship game until the fourth quarter before beating Americus-Sumter 58-55.
He made the game’s two decisive baskets, both 3-pointers, on the way to a team-high 19 points. The first one he banked in with 2:12 left to give Carver its first lead. The last one game with 28 seconds left — and with Watts falling to the floor — for a 55-54 lead.
“You can’t give up,” he said. “Play every game to the end.”
Watts certainly did that in the final. His steal snuffed out Americus-Sumter’s chance for a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. He tossed the ball in the air after sealing the victory.
“It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” he said.
“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “The city came out and supported us. I can tell everyone was proud of us, with both teams winning the same year. That’s never been done in the city. Everyone showed the respect we deserve.”
Watts added, “I’m proud of Carver, the work we put in, the talks we had, the battles and wars we had to fight. We came out as champions. Nobody saw that happening except our team.”
Beaulah called Watts’ playing style deceptive.
“He just never looks like he’s moving fast,” Beaulah said. “He dunked on that 7-footer for Woodward (in the state semifinals), and lots of people didn’t know he could jump.”
Beaulah has enjoyed seeing Watts mature on and off the court.
“Just watching him grow as a person to become Player of the Year, he started off with a lot of talent but needed a lot of molding,” Beaulah said. “This year, he was that leader, that guy on the floor who wasn’t going to let us lose. His willpower is just amazing. It’s a pleasure to coach him. He’s a heck of an athlete. He loves basketball. He plays with a passion.”
But he will play football in college. He has signed with Division I Akron as a defensive back.
“It’s bittersweet, because basketball is my love, but I’ve got to let it go,” said Watts, listed as a two-star football recruit at 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds by 247Sports. “I want to go to the NFL, so I look at it as a business decision.”
Beaulah was the All-Bi-City Boys Basketball Coach of the Year in 2017, when the Tigers went 21-7 and won two state tournament games before losing to St. Pius in the quarterfinals.
Last year, Carver again lost to St. Pius in the quarterfinals. This year, however, St. Pius was on the other side of the Class AAAA bracket, and Americus-Sumter upset No. 1 St. Pius in the quarterfinals.
Then, in the championship game, the Tigers beat Americus-Sumter — the fourth time in five meetings this season — to take the state title and finished 26-5.
His favorite memories of the season, Beaulah said, came during the final, when Devin Flowers made a deep 3-pointer in front of the broadcasters and when Watts made that one while falling in front of his coach.
The low point in the season, Beaulah said, came Jan. 21-22, when the Tigers lost two consecutive games, 63-56 at Warner Robins in the MLK Basketball Classic at Albany State and 77-55 at Westover.
Getting blown out at Westover particularly gnawed at Beaulah.
“We just didn’t’ show up, and they put a pretty good whooping on us,” he said.
So he called a team meeting and talked separately with the three senior captains (Watts, Flowers and Jalen King). The message: “Some of the guys, especially my captains, were trying to do a little too much,” Beaulah said. “They were not trusting their teammates. That wasn’t us.”
Carver didn’t lose again the rest of the season, winning 10 straight.
Watts described Beaulah as “a good leader, a good motivator. He pushes you and keeps you up so you can go harder. He never lets you get down when you have a bad game. He’s fun to be around. He’s a very positive guy.”
LEDGER-ENQUIRER 2019 ALL-BI-CITY BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM
The L-E thanks Muscogee County School District athletics director Jeff Battles for coordinating the selection process. Coaches at each high school in the Columbus area were invited to nominate students and coaches. The coaches met to discuss the nominations and voted on the selections.
Player of the Year: Carver senior A.J. Watts.
Coach of the Year: Warren Beaulah of Carver.
First team: Northside senior Jha’Quez Anderson, Central senior Tremere Brown, Kendrick senior Freddie Farley, Carver senior Jalen King and Spencer sophomore Jaylin Sellers.
Second team: Manchester senior Carlos Dixon Jr., Carver senior Devin Flowers, Pacelli sophomore Ian Mathews, Harris County junior Talique Williams and Shaw junior Rod Winfrey.
Honorable mention: Kendrick senior Mikavious Cobb, Jordan senior Tra’Quan Davis, Calvary Christian senior Darius Durham, Brookstone senior Chris Edmonds, Brookstone senior Taylor Harris, Shaw senior Trey Lee, Hardaway junior Ahmad Maddox, Spencer junior Malachi Morris, Central senior Tremaine Porter, Marion County senior Josh Rodgers, Chattahoochee County junior Brandon Thomas, Smiths Station senior Jalin Thomas and Columbus sophomore Gary Volt.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.