Harlem High School boys basketball coach Kim Chambers walked through the gym after a loss to Evans in December and pointed out a student in street clothes under a basket. Chambers said senior Al Walden was a game-changer, but he wouldn't be eligible until this month.
Walden made his debut for the Bulldogs last week, picking up a double-double during a loss to Butler on Jan. 6.
Harlem beat Josey 55-49 at home Friday, and Walden drew raves for his rebounding and a breakaway dunk that swung the momentum.
"That guy's athletic," Bulldogs guard Cedric Boatner said. "Every day at practice, all he (does) is jump."
Students and coaches were abuzz about Walden, who enrolled at Harlem last fall after spending the spring semester of his junior year at Westside.
Before Westside, Walden played for Plantation High School, near Miami, Fla.
The transplant is down to the final weeks of his high school career. Already he's meshed with his new teammates.
"They're pretty good guys to get along with," Walden said.
The Bulldogs lost two starters during the holiday break to academic ineligibility but gained Walden. Chambers said he felt his new-look team had better chemistry.
When the Bulldogs left the floor at halftime leading Josey 26-19 on Friday, Chambers paused to offer an assessment.
"I don't know if we can play four quarters," he said.
But Harlem led by 10 after the third quarter and pushed their lead to 16 with 2:47 left before the Eagles started nailing 3-pointers and the Bulldogs went cold from the free-throw line.
The win might not have ended well, but the Bulldogs had reason for optimism after picking up their first region victory.
"I think we're going to turn the corner on this one," Boatner said. "I think from here on out, we're going to be a better team."
Harlem girls hold off Josey
If she had her way, Harlem girls coach Amy Slagle would leave point guard Chancellor Martin on the floor for the duration of games. And for the most part, she does.
Martin, who came to Harlem after playing for Glenn Hills last season, has been a catalyst in the Bulldogs' fast start, leading the Bulldogs' defense and providing a quick scorer on offense.
"She needs to stay out there," Slagle said after the Bulldogs beat Josey 46-31 on Jan. 9. "I know I about kill her."
Harlem's win followed its first setback of the season, a Jan. 6 overtime loss at Butler. Josey coach Ann Jennings, whose team has played both Butler and Harlem this season, said Harlem was taller, but that Butler probably had the quicker team. Jennings said the Eagles fell victim to Harlem's size.
"They had big, long arms," Jennings said. "We told them at halftime to bounce pass the ball. In the emotion of the game, we forgot that they had long arms."
Harlem will play host to Butler on Feb. 3 with a chance to avenge its first loss.
"They were all upset about it, for sure," Slagle said. "But as they saying goes, it got the monkey off our back. We don't have that '0' sitting out there."
The Bulldogs started the season 10-0 before their loss to Butler. Slagle's team fell 52-48 in overtime.
Martin scored 21 points to lead Harlem against the Eagles. Nicole and Ebony Wells combined for 33 points.
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