Unity Christian middle school basketball

The Unity Christian boys’ middle school team celebrates after winning the GICAA Class A District 1 state championship. The team is made up of Avery Alford, Ballard Childs, Bowen Childs, Kaleb Dent, Price Dyer, Cooper Giddens, Levi Holland, Matthew Lassiter, Tristan Osner, Collin Pettegrew, Eli Thompson, Johnny Whitley and Austin Wilkerson. Head coach is Jonathan Whitley and assistant coach is Josiah Petro. / Contributed

At the start of the season, Unity Christian middle school basketball coach Jonathan Whitley didn’t know what to expect from his team.

Ten wins into the season, he realized they were going to have a special year.

The Lions went on to finish the season with a perfect 21-0 record and capped the year with a GICAA Class A District I middle school state championship by defeating Miller’s Military Academy 47-39.

“We lost most of our starters last year, so we kind of started the year unsure,” Whitley said. “We won our Christmas tournament and after that I thought we might be able to win it all.”

The Lions scored an average of 49.2 points per game, while allowing only 26.8, but the championship game, played on Feb. 9 in Acworth, posed other challenges for the team.

Early in the third quarter, leading scorers Austin Wilkerson and Eli Thompson fouled out. Maintaining their focus on winning the state title, Whitley looked to his other players to fill the gaps. Kaleb Dent, Tristan Osner, Johnny Whitley and Cooper Giddens were there to help carry the load as the Lions held on for the win.

“When our top scorers went out, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Whitley said. “They stepped up and had to finish the game, and they did really well. It was a really tough team, but they did well.”

It wasn’t the first time Whitley had seen other players on his team step up throughout the season.

“The great thing is everybody contributed,” Whitley said. “We had several guys that had never even stepped on a basketball court, so it was great to have every player get in the scorebook.”