SCOTIA — Tall, long and eager are some of the words coach Chad Bowman used to describe his Mekeel Christian Academy boys' basketball team. He also said his cast of Lions is inexperienced, with only one returning starter from a team that brought home the school's first state title last March.
"The last two, three years, the continuity was there. We made minor tweaks," Bowman said. "This is an overhaul."
Don't take Bowman the wrong way. Though he's got some new faces and some familiar ones taking on expanded roles, the veteran coach believes his 4-0 team is going to win more games. Just how many, he's not so certain of.
"I don't know who my team is right now," Bowman said. "We'll know a lot more in the next couple of weeks."
Mekeel knocked off its fourth out-of-section team Saturday, racing past Destiny Christian School from Rochester 91-49. Amsterdam transfer Ozzie DeJesus scored 23 points, and Alex Barnhill, a reserve on the 25-4 Class B state title team, delivered 18 points.
"Coach said this is like the preseason," DeJesus said of the Saturday's game and ones against Ogdensburg Free Academy, Moriah and Peru before that. "Our first real test will be Green Tech."
Mekeel and Green Tech tangle Wednesday, and the Lions face Columbia Saturday when their state-winning banner will be unfurled. Games against Mechanicville, Stillwater, Northstar Christian Academy, Bishop Kearney, Ballston Spa, Watervliet and another with Green Tech will follow.
The Ballston Spa game could be a sectional preview, with the Lions and the Scotties both holding Class A designation this season.
"The next few weeks are going to be a challenge. We'll see some great teams," Bowman said. "There will be times where we'll have to show our character."
Bowman is anxious to find out just how much of that his group has. One thing he does know is that his team needs to continue to develop at the offensive end. In the preseason and at times in the four wins, the Lions struggled to generate points.
Mekeel lost 92 percent of its offense, much of that coming from 2018 graduates Jordan Jackson, Deonte Holder and Carter Stewart.
"As a team, we're working on becoming a cohesive unit," Bowman said. "We don't want to waste possessions. And if there is a mistake, we don't want to let it compound into two or three mistakes."
"This is our first year together and we need to build more chemistry," said Barnhill, one of six sophomores on the team that also includes three seniors and two juniors. "Well be okay if we keep working."
Bowman likes what he's seen so far at the defensive end.
"We are working on becoming a complete team," Bowman said. "Right now, defense is our strength. They're doing a good job."
Dan McCarty, a senior forward, is Mekeel's defensive anchor and only returning starter from a team that finished second at the Federation Tournament of Champions and tied a school record for victories.
"He is our glue guy. He is so important to what we do defensively," Bowman said. "His defensive IQ is exceptional. He sees plays before they develop. He's vocal. He'll take a charge."
McCarty and DeJesus, a junior guard, are the only Lions with big-game experience. As a sophomore last season, DeJesus played a significant role in Amsterdam's run to the Section II Class A title game, where it lost to Mohonasen.
"Great motor. Loves playing the game. Extremely coachable. He wants to get better," Bowman said of DeJesus, who averaged 19 points last season and was named a Foothills Council first-team all-star. "We're excited about what he brings to the table."
Mekeel also has senior Cameron Stewart and sophomores Josh Winfield and Mike Show back in the fold.
"This is their moment," Bowman said. "They've got to cut their own path. The kids are eager to embrace the challenge."
Mekeel outscored Destiny 32-9 in the first quarter, which featured a 21-0 run. DeJesus scored 10 points in the run, Barnhill scored seven with one of his three slam dunks and Winfield contributed four points with a slam dunk.
Mekeel led 60-19 at the half and sank nine 3-pointers during that stretch.
Martinez 8-2-21, Clark 5-3-14, Hart 5-2-12, Marrassa 1-0-2, Downing 0-0-0. Totals: 19-7-49.
MEKEEL CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
McCary 1-0-2, Stewart 3-0-8, DeJesus 9-3-23, Rollins 2-0-5, Banks 4-0-8, Barnhill 8-0-18, Kane 3-0-7, Lima 3-1-8, Show 2-0-6, Winfield 3-0-6. Totals: 38-4-91.
Destiny 9 10 19 11 — 49
Mekeel 32 28 7 24 — 91