WAYLAND — Jaleel Bell was under control. The game had been buzzing around him at chaotic speeds, but with five minutes left against Waltham High Tuesday night, he slowed everything to a halt.
From the top of the key, he coolly dribbled toward the rim, bounced off of a defender’s foul, and double-clutched to hang in the air before sinking a one-handed 12-footer in the lane. The shot pushed Wayland High’s lead to double digits, forcing Waltham to call a timeout.
Minutes later, the Warriors sealed up a win over their Dual County League rival, 71-61.
Bell’s ability to play at his own pace has helped him develop into one of the most dynamic scorers in Eastern Massachusetts and put Wayland (7-2) in the driver’s seat atop the DCL Small.
The 6-foot-2 senior is quick enough to get around defenders off the dribble, but rather than hurry, he pulls off his moves deliberately and dares defenders to stop him. His 30 points against Waltham pushed his average this season to 25.3 points per game.
“It’s not me playing slow, it’s just me playing at my own pace,” said Bell, the reigning DCL Small MVP. “If I have to speed up and somebody forces me to do that, shame on me. That’s not my game. It can be my game, but what I prefer to do is take my time. If I take my time, I know what I can do and I end up helping my team out.”
Wayland has needed more help of late.
A pair of returning starters from last year, 6-foot-2 senior forward Mark Bonner and 6-foot-3 senior forward Yannick Schaefer went out with injuries during the holiday break. As the Warriors pressed on, Bell and senior captain and guard Harry Leavitt stepped up.
The team also began to realize the kind of depth it possessed.
“I think at the beginning of the season we felt like we had a lot of new players,” said Leavitt, also a returning starter. “We had four starters coming back, but really nobody from the bench. So they would be kind of uncomfortable when they came in at first, but getting this kind of exposure, getting a lot of minutes now is going to help us out so much later in the season.”
Minus Bonner and Schaefer, Wayland has altered its style to play more in transition. The Warriors like to press, as they did against Waltham (6-2) for the majority of their game, and frequently substitute in players with fresh legs. It is a high-energy style that encourages players to dive for loose balls and play physically on the defensive end, whether they are playing man-to-man or zone.
“They just took it to us tonight,” said Waltham coach Joe Cacciatore . “And they kind of beat us up a little bit also, and that’s not typical of the kinds of teams we’ve [played] a lot. We don’t get beat up. We usually beat other teams up. But tonight they physically took it to us.”
Wayland coach Dennis Doherty said he is a firm believer that as his team continues to play good defense, the offense will come naturally.
“I think we just have to keep playing intense ‘D’ whether it’s in the full court or the half court,” he said. “We’ve got an intense group of players who’ve been very focused the last three weeks. . . . The only way we’re gonna be successful is if we’re focused and intense every day.”
Before the season, Wayland players wrote down their goals for this season. After losing to eventual state champion Danvers in the Division 3 North semifinals last season, 70-67, they have high hopes, but they also know there is plenty of work to do.
“I don’t know if we’ve had that statement game yet because we’re down two starters,” said Leavitt, whose goals include a state title. “That’s the exciting part, we’re just playing really good basketball right now, but we know we can play a lot better.”
As they try to reach their potential, they will continue to count on Bell for his offensive production. A four-year varsity player, he shows no signs of slowing down. He ran cross-country before last season to work on his conditioning, but he is a year-round basketball player. When he is not practicing with his Wayland teammates, Bell, a Metco student from Dorchester, can be found at the Perkins Community Center, honing his scorer’s skills. Part of that skill set includes a throw-back-style midrange jump shot. Instead of heaving 3-pointers, he uses his dribble to move in within 15 feet. His long arms and soft touch do the rest.
All the while, he maintains an approach that borders on nonchalance, never speeding up to a pace he does not like, never losing control.
“I like to score and that’s my thing so when I have the ball; I’m not gonna rush myself to do what I have to do,” he said. “I’m gonna take my time and make everybody else move fast.”
After their first game of the new year — a loss to Walpole, 50-44 — the Wellesley High girls were in an unusual spot. The reigning five-time Bay State League champs had a losing record.
An ankle injury to last season’s league MVP, 6-foot-2 senior center Grace Miller , and a season-ending knee injury to senior captain Lee Berndsen quickly left the Raiders without two starters early. Ankle tendinitis for junior guard Sophia Mavrommatis compounded their problems, as did the flu, which spread through the locker room.
But Miller returned last week, and the roster is getting healthier. Senior captain Charlotte Bussema helped keep the group going, and with the aid of three freshmen — point guard Emma Ivey , 6-foot forward Caroline Sullivan , and forward Katie Williamson — Wellesley (6-4) won three in a row.
The team lost one of its best fans, Elisa Parsons , great aunt of coach Kristin Cieri , who died of pneumonia Jan. 9 at age 90.
“We’re trying to play well to honor her memory,” Cieri said of her Aunt Lisa. “We’re just starting to click. It’s late. But better late than never.”
Foley reaches 800
Now in his 50th year as a head coach, Bob Foley notched his 800th win when St. John’s (Shrewsbury) beat visiting Holy Name, 80-37, on Tuesday night.
In an accomplished coaching career that started at Uxbridge and continued at St. Peter-Marian — he has two state titles and 16 Division 1 Central Mass. championships — he said he values the time he has spent with his players more than his win total.
“I’ve had a chance to coach over 1,100 games and so that seems to me to be the thing that means the most,” Foley said. “Wins are nice but I think it’s the games, it’s the kids.”
And Howes hits 200
When Maynard beat Ayer-Shirley last week, 70-59, coach Paul Howes registered his 200th career win, giving him a record of 200-123 in 16 seasons at the school.
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.