In a paradoxical way, when Julian Batts took the field as the quarterback of Jeannette’s football team last fall, he was beginning to improve as a basketball player.
As a first-time starter under center, he completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 900 yards, but it was in other, harder-to-define areas of the game where he made strides that have translated to the court.
“The biggest thing has been his leadership,” said Adrian Batts, Julian’s father and the school’s boys basketball coach. “He was the starting quarterback for the first time. I thought he learned how to wear his emotions not on his sleeve, but he let them bounce off him.
“That’s helped him as a point guard. He’s seen a lot of different things thrown at him during his freshman and sophomore years and he’s handled them well.”
Many areas of Batts’ game were already strong, but the leadership skills he built on the football field have helped transform him into a new and improved player — perhaps even one of the best in the WPIAL.
Through his team’s first 12 games, Batts is averaging 23.3 points per game, putting him among the top 10 scorers in the WPIAL. A junior point guard, he has started for the Jayhawks since his freshman season and has shown signs of improvement since that time. He averaged 15.3 points per game as a sophomore last season.
This season, though, has seen his game go to an entirely different level. Batts has scored no fewer than 10 points in any of Jeannette’s games this season and along with his scoring numbers, he has contributed in other areas of the game, averaging around seven assists and seven rebounds per contest.
He has begun to receive some interest from Division I schools such as Duquesne, Youngstown State and Cleveland State. Batts’ growth has been particularly rewarding for the person who has gotten an extensive, first-hand look at it — his father.
“All parents get to see their kids grow into adulthood, but it’s a thrill to see him grow as a player and a young man,” coach Batts said. “It’s a great opportunity. I enjoy it and he enjoys it to some point. I’m a little tougher on him.”
Batts’ individual success has not underlied the fact that Jeannette has shown some signs of balance in its 8-4 start this season. Senior forward Miles Sunder has been one of the team’s top scorers and has emerged as the Jayhawks’ top defender, one regularly tasked with guarding the top player on the opposing team. Seniors Damone Morton, Michael Wise and Matt Howard have also made noteworthy contributions for a team that has won six of its past eight games and is 4-2 and in third place in Section 3-AA.
But even after losing six seniors from a group that made the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals last season, including leading scorer Duke Brown, the goal of making a run to the WPIAL playoffs remains the same for a team that has learned from its three losses, which came by a combined six points.
“We’ve lost three games by two points and every game has taught us something,” Adrian Batts said.
Gateway girls making strides
The Gateway girls basketball team began the week lumped in the middle of Class AAAA Section 2, with three teams ahead of it and three behind it. Its current place in the standings, though, cannot downplay what has been a team on a bit of a run lately.
After losing three of their first five games, the Gators (7-4, 3-3) have won five of their past six. Senior guard Jada Epps has been instrumental in the team’s recent success as she has averaged 16.5 points per game over the past four contests.
Gateway (10-4, 6-1 Class AAAA Section 2) vs. Hempfield Area (11-1, 6-0 Class AAAA Section 1), at Seton Hill University, 8:30 p.m., Saturday — Following an early-season loss to Greensburg Central Catholic, the Spartans have been on a tear lately, one led by junior guard Kason Harrell (22.5 points per game). The Gators have struggled a bit recently, but senior guard Delvon Randall (16 points per game) has helped pace an offense that is averaging just shy of 70 points per game. For two Class AAAA schools that are both in the Post-Gazette’s East Xtra coverage area, the meeting in the Coaches vs. Cancer Backyard Brawlz will be the first between the two programs in more than a decade.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG