Although the West St. John Lady Rams basketball team is off to a 6-10 start, the transition from one head coach to another has gone about as smoothly as might be expected – which is the way it was set up to be.
After five years as an assistant at West St. John, Joshua Bellaire has stepped into the top spot, replacing Lester Smith, who seemed to have been around longer than the Edgard school itself.
“As soon as I came in, he allowed me to do a lot and kind of put my stamp on it from the get-go,” Bellaire said of Smith. “So, It’s not really a big change there. We kind of had the same philosophy and views on basketball and the style of play that we wanted to play. I’m just trying to keep that going – what he and I have created over these past five years.”
Because of that, the transition period hasn’t been so much from players to new coach at West St. John as it’s been an adjustment to new responsibilities for Bellaire.
“The transition to becoming a head coach, everything is on you,” Bellaire said. “It’s on your shoulders. That’s a big adjustment for me. You are kind of always worrying about having to think about if you are making the right call or doing the right thing. Should I be doing this? Should I be doing that?”
“That’s one thing I think I will grow into,” Bellaire continued. “My assistant coach, Matthew Young, does a good job helping me as well. I feel comfortable with where I’m at. I get a lot of support from our coaching staff and administration. I think I’m in a great position where I will grow and get better every year and the program will as well.”
The 2019-20 Lady Rams feature a mixture of experience and youth. Much of the experience comes in the form of senior Kylie Adams.
“I always feel good because I have No. 1 – Kylie Adams has been a great basketball player for us the past four years. She’s really a good kid on and off the court and she’s a really good leader. I don’t worry too much because I know she’s going to be a leader and be there. She’s kind of like a coach on the court for me. She gets them going and we lean on her a lot,” said Bellaire.
Other veterans players include seniors Sonte Pierre, who has been playing for the WSJ for four years, and Tiye Walters.
There are several young players expected to play key roles.
“We are a mix because my center, Jazmine Jessie, is a ninth grader. I think she will blossom into a very strong player over the next few years. Another ninth grader, Ne’lrae Jones, she comes off the bench and helps us a lot. I have s sophomore, Mickel Waxter, she’s been developing,” said Bellaire.
Much has stayed the same in the move from Smith to Bellaire, but there are always subtle changes. In the case of West St. John this season, a lot has to do with personnel.
“On defense, we really like to cause a lot of turnovers – trap the ball, apply pressure where we can and get you to turn the ball over if we can,” Bellaire said.
The biggest difference, said Bellaire, comes on the offensive side for the Lady Rams.
“The offensive philosophy, we would like to run,” the West St. John coach said. “In the past, we’ve been able to shoot well from the perimeter and knock down some 3s. This is more of an inside team and we have to play more of an inside game.
“That’s more of adjustment I’ve been making and have to get used to because we don’t really shoot it a lot from outside as much as we used to. We have some long and athletic players we try to get the ball in the paint, get a lot of turnovers and get out and run.”
Pierre echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“We are doing basically the same things,” Pierre said. “We have a couple of new plays and lot of new, young players.
“We are doing more defensive plays, trying to make our defense harder because we have young players that have to handle the ball so we can be effective on defense so we can get them the ball.”
The season, to this point, has been a matter of putting things together in time for district play.
That time is quickly approaching, with the Lady Rams visit Riverside Academy in less than a week.
“I think we will really give ourselves a shot to fight for the top stop in district. We definitely have a shot. We just have to put a few more things together and clean up a few things and I think we will be right there,” Bellaire said.
“If everybody comes to play, we can win,” said Pierre.