Aidan James and Joe Roberts, senior cocaptains on the Wellesley High basketball squad, stood and clapped and hollered their approval from the bench as their teammates showed what they could do.
It was the fourth quarter of Wellesley’s fourth game in five days, and the team’s two leading scorers were more than happy to watch other Raiders finish off a Bay State Conference win over Framingham, 74-41, on Tuesday.
For one, it gave them a chance to rest at the end of a grueling stretch of competition in which the team played a quarter of its regular-season schedule in a week and a half. But the win also helped prove to the Raiders (9-4) that there is a dependable reserve of talent on their roster that will be available for the season’s final few weeks, as they work to maintain their place atop the Bay State’s Herget Division standings.
“I think we’ve learned that we can go deep when we need to,” James said after the win. “For example, tonight we played everybody. We need to use everybody because it gives a chance for the starters and the guys who play a lot to get some rest. It’s great. Coach just calls a name and kids step up to the plate.”
Wellesley coach Glen Magpiong made a concerted effort to go deeper into his bench against the Flyers — for the majority of the season he used a rotation of seven or eight players — because earlier in the week fatigue caught up to his team in a 67-53 loss to Braintree.
‘Kia kaha (forever strong)’
“We came out in the Braintree game pretty flat in the beginning of the game,” Roberts said. “Tonight we talked about it in the locker room how we wanted to come out with a lot of energy. That just transitioned to the entire game.”
Though the Raiders had their conditioning tested recently, their strength and stamina have been their assets over the course of the winter.
Nearly all of their players have worked out together since August in order to be able to outlast opponents, and daily basketball-specific workouts with Tim Brewster at Train Boston, a training and physical therapy center in town, helped them prepare for the season.
Brewster continues to run weekly workouts for the team to keep up the fitness level they established months ago.
“All of what’s happening right now started in the offseason for these guys,” Magpiong said. “These guys got after it from the summer through the fall, both on their conditioning and with their fundamentals development and functional development. These guys were ready to go. I think that’s part of the reason why we got out to pretty quick start.”
Through 13 games, James, a shooting guard, led the team in scoring, averaging 15.8 points, while Roberts chipped in with an average of 10 points and 8 rebounds per game.
Senior cocaptain Malik Rochelle and junior Andy Kaplan usually draw the duties of guarding an opposing team’s best player, and junior 6-foot-6 center Ryan Noel has emerged as an offensive threat both in the paint and from the outside, knocking down open jumpers with regularity.
The Raiders got solid performances from all 15 players on the roster in a 53-51 win over St. John’s Prep at TD Garden last weekend in the Good Sports Invitational. Magpiong made sure that each of his players had the experience of playing on the home floor of the Boston Celtics, and he got a resounding indication that his bench could perform on the biggest of stages against one of the best teams in the state.
“I just have to trust,” Magpiong said. “If that game didn’t give me an indication that I can trust one through 15, then shame on me. Kids stepped up throughout the game and showed that, you know what?: They can play. They can play with anybody. They showed it. They showed me. They showed themselves. They showed their teammates.”
After the win, the team’s Twitter account, usually run by Magpiong, posted a thank you to fans and tournament organizers, signing off with “Kia Kaha,” a Maori phrase popular in New Zealand that essentially means “forever strong.”
Wellesley adopted it as a team motto last season, and carried it over to this year.
James and Roberts admitted that “kia kaha” was said at halftime of last week’s win over Framingham, spurring the Raiders to extend its lead and move to within one win of ensuring an MIAA tournament berth. “It just kind of stuck with us,” said James. “ ‘Forever strong,’ that’s something that we’re about. From the beginning of the season to the end. We stay together and we’re strong.”
As Wellesley’s recent play has indicated, it’s a mantra that applies to everyone on the team, from the starters to the last player on the bench.
All on Franklin team getting game play
Franklin High girls’ basketball coach John Leighton lost eight seniors from last year’s team that advanced to the Division 1 South final, but somehow this season’s team is one of the deepest he has ever had. He has played all 12 players in every game this season, and the Panthers have fired out to an 11-2 record.
“It’s an embarrassment of riches,” Leighton said. “I’m very lucky to be in the program I’m in. A lot of kids are getting their first-ever varsity minutes, but we have a lot of kids that were kind of hiding on JV last year that were really varsity ready.
“I have depth like I never had before.”
Junior Lexi Martin is versatile enough to play any position from shooting guard to power forward, and she leads the way with an average of 14 points per game. Junior Juliane Pisani keeps the team’s offense up-tempo from the point guard spot, while senior cocaptain Lauren Irvine averages 10 points per game as the team’s starting center.
Senior cocaptains Julia Bireley and Jess Potts, junior guard Tracy Pisani (Juliane’s sister), and sophomore center Aubrie Kutil also play significant roles.
“In practice it really changes what we do,” Leighton said of his team’s depth, “because we can keep things far more competitive. We don’t do starters versus subs, ever. We make two equal teams that are competitive every day.
“The competitiveness at practice has been better than some of our games,’’ he said. “It really helps the level of play all the way around.”
Coach Papas hits 500
Buckingham Browne & Nichols boys’ coach Nick Papas logged his 500th career game with a 73-67 win over Brooks. The Watertown High alum has also coached at Minuteman, Melrose, and Burlington.
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.