Bloomington Kennedy Kenisha Bell split two defenders on her way to the basket as the team worked on plays during practice in Bloomington Thursday, January 23, 2014. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) firstname.lastname@example.org
Bloomington Kennedy girls’ basketball coach Quintin Johnson doesn’t downplay how important seniors Kenisha Bell and Tonoia Wade are to his team.
“Unquestionably, they’re my leaders by example on the court,” Johnson said. “We need them to get to where we want to get, and they know that, and I express it all the time to them.”
Bell and Wade have scored more than half of Bloomington Kennedy’s points and have led the Eagles, ranked eighth in Class 4A, to an 11-5 record this season. The longtime friends and Division-I recruits can take over games with their athleticism, efficient jump shots and defensive prowess, but also in different ways.
Bell, a Marquette recruit, has quick hands, a smooth jumper and can create easy baskets in transition. The 5-9 point guard leads the team in scoring at 20.2 points per game and exudes a quiet confidence on the court, often dribbling the ball between her legs and finishing plays with flashy passes and layups.
Wade, a 6-2 forward, is second on the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game. The St. John’s recruit is quick enough to defend guards, tall enough to guard forwards and athletic enough to create her own shot.
“Basically, she’s a matchup nightmare,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say she does one thing better than the other. She does a lot of things very, very well.”
Bell and Wade displayed their skill and athleticism Friday night, combining for 50 points as Bloomington Kennedy defeated Burnsville 77-49. Bell made three-point shots and turned steals into transition baskets but also set up teammates with no-look passes. Wade, a beneficiary of Bell’s passing acumen, scored most of her points near the basket, taking defenders off the dribble and scoring off offensive rebounds.
“They took over the game for a little bit there,” Johnson said. “Both of them do so many different things, it’s hard to stop them, whether you focus on them or not.”
Bell and Wade were key contributors last season when the Eagles, led by Star Tribune All-Metro forward Jade Martin, went 28-4 and lost in the Class 4A title game to Hopkins. Martin now plays for Georgetown. The Eagles also got major contributions last season from Martin’s younger sister, Jasmyn, who transferred to Hopkins, and Kiara Russell, who transferred to Osseo.
Johnson and his players said it took time to adjust to life without Russell and the Martins. The team had a 5-4 record through its first nine games.
But the Eagles appear to have found their confidence after the tough opening stretch, which included five teams in the top 10 of their respective classes. The team has won seven of its past eight games, the lone loss during that stretch coming to No. 1 Eastview.
“I think we’re coming together more as a team,” senior forward Isy Odor said. “I think it was a slow process at first, but we’ve gotten better.”
Odor, who will play for University of Minnesota-Crookston next year, is Bloomington Kennedy’s fourth-leading scorer at 6.8 points per game. She and sophomore forward LaShayla Wright-Ponder, who averages 9.8 points per game, have taken some of the scoring burden off Bell and Wade.
But Bell said she and Wade don’t mind the leading role.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “I’ve been waiting to score, she’s been waiting to score, and now we’re both scoring. It’s just exciting.”
The Eagles will have a chance to avenge the loss to Eastview on Feb. 13. They could face Hopkins again in the state tournament, where they believe they would have a shot at knocking off the three-time defending Class 4A champions.
For now they’re working on becoming more consistent, in the hopes of peaking in March.
“[The best is] still yet to come,” Wade said. “We all just need to be on the same page. We need to keep working hard.”
Nate Gotlieb is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.