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Humble Watts wins 4th straight

Brookhaven Academy’s Dale Watts doesn’t like to brag about hiscoaching accomplishments. He was reluctant to hold four fingers upwhile posing for The DAILY LEADER’s All-Lincoln County BoysBasketball Coach of the Year honor.

Watts earned the honor by directing his Cougars to a fourthconsecutive MPSA Class AA State Tournament championship. Moreremarkable was the fact that his team overcame a nearly disastrousshowing in the South State Tournament a week earlier when theyfinished fourth, barely advancing to the state tournament atGrenada Kirk Academy.

Brookhaven Academy’s large following of faithful fans, a.k.a.the Cougar Nation, had plenty to cheer about. They watched theirCougars knock off North No. 1 seed Marshall Academy in the openinground. In the semifinals, the Cougars avenged three previous lossesto powerhouse Bowling Green, beating the Bucs.

In the state title game, another familiar foe bit the dust.Natchez Trinity had split with the Cougars during the regularseason but this time the Saints were no match for BA’smomentum.

Looking back on the 24-9 campaign, Watts said it was a season ofadversity and challenge. They had lost 2007 all-everything MVPguard T-Boy Lynch but four starters returned.

Adversity arrived due to injury and transfer. Point guard TySmith went out early with a leg injury. Playmaker guard DaveBarnett transferred to West Lincoln.

“I kept trying to put different people at that spot (pointguard) but it wasn’t working,” said Watts. “Daniel Lofton said hecould do it but I needed him in other positions.”

Lofton, an all-star senior quarterback on BA’s District 4-AAchampionship team, was a late arrival to practice. He had playedthe post position as a junior.

“Daniel played point real well in the Columbia game (Jan. 15),”said Watts. “Our team became comfortable.”

According to Watts, the late emergence of Corey Dickerson as ateam leader and scorer was beneficial. He gave the Cougars a majorboost.

“Near the end of the regular season I challenged Corey and hestepped up,” said Watts. “He began to shoot the ball better. Hetook the team on his shoulders and carried us.”

Lofton, Dickerson and Sawyer Wallace were three senior startersfor the Cougars. Blaine Roberts, the team’s leading scorer (16ppg), and guard Josh Winborne are juniors. Jake Reed is a 6-2sophomore who works as the sixth man.

“This team does better with their backs to the wall,” Wattspointed out. “We caught the North No. 1 in Marshall in the firstround of state but our kids were relaxed and ready to play.”

He recalled a pregame conversation he had with his team. “I toldthem if we lost, they could ride home with their mamas. If we won,they could ride home on the bus with me. It was a good feeling onthe bus after beating Marshall.”

Watts said his team had Wednesday to rest and Thursday toprepare for Bowling Green before meeting the Bucs in the statesemifinals. “The whole team stepped up. Our kids stuck to the gameplan and played the game one minute at a time. They (Bucs) hadkilled us a week earlier on the offensive boards but this time weexecuted and rebounded well.”

Against Trinity, Dickerson poured in a game-high 28 points andthe Cougars cruised to victory.

Brookhaven Academy is rich in basketball tradition. Over 20state championship banners decorate John R. Gray Gymnasium.

“I told these players, that they can look at this 2008 statechampionship banner and realize they were a part of it,” saidWatts. “Ten or 20 years from now when they bring their kids to thisgym, they can point to that banner and say, ‘”I was on that statechampionship team.'”

Watts, 54, has won six state championships in 15 years at thehelm. He’s been coaching 30 years. He also won state and MPSAOverall titles at McComb Parklane.

A part-time coach, Watts relies on his horse business asfull-time employment. He owns Pioneer Stables, located just northof Summit on Highway 51. He and his two sons, Josh and Jonathan,board, raise and train Tennessee Walkers. Watts has producedseveral world champions.

In basketball, Watts is recognized for coaching hard-working,defensive-minded teams. They produce state championships, too.