After missing half of last season with foot and ankle injuries, Jalen Malone has become an integral part of the Westerville Central High School boys basketball team this season.
The 5-foot-11 junior took over as starting point guard at the beginning of the season and has improved steadily throughout, according to coach Todd Minney.
"Jalen has a whole other year of development," Minney said. "Once he develops and gets better on his right hand, he'll be fine. He has a good shot right now. He's confident and he creates good space. He has a knack for finding people in tight spots. Defensively, he works his tail off. He's one of the most solid guys we've had defensively. He continually works."
Last season, Malone was injured during a preseason game against Gahanna in the Phil Brown Rotary Classic at Otterbein University. He missed 12 games and when he returned he was the backup to 2012 graduate Tre Stennett at point guard.
Stennett is playing at Wilmington College.
Knowing that he was expected to take on a larger role this season, Malone dedicated much of last summer to improving his game. In addition to maintaining a rigorous training schedule, he played for an AAU team.
"I hit it real hard last summer," Malone said.
Central dropped to 9-9 overall and 5-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division with a 66-57 loss to visiting Westerville North on Feb. 1.
The Warhawks led by as many as 10 points in the first half and held a 30-28 advantage at halftime, but they were outscored 38-27 in the second half. North took a 43-41 lead with 55 seconds left in the third quarter and would not trail again.
Forward Eric James led Central with 20 points, including 17 in the first half, and Malone, guard Charles Carmon and post player Kwamel Wade each scored 10.
"Eric was on fire in the first half and we went away from that," said Minney, whose team lost to North 79-58 on Dec. 21 in the first round of OCC-Cardinal play. "He didn't get a whole lot of touches in the second half. They went to denial, which made it tough for him to get the ball, and he may have been a little tired in the fourth quarter."
Guard Jalen Benton had 17 points to lead North, which is ranked fourth in the state poll and second in the area coaches poll in Division I.
"We had a lot of empty possessions in the fourth quarter," Malone said. "Against better teams, it gives them more chances. We're not getting anything out of the possession, so we're giving them the ball back. We're just like handing it to them."
Central defeated Hilliard Bradley 69-33 in a league game Jan. 29 behind 16 points from Malone and 11 from Carmon.
The Warhawks outscored the Jaguars 20-3 in the second quarter.
"I love these guys and they are getting a whole lot better, but we have to break a lot of bad habits still," Minney said. "We're a solid team and I think a lot of people should fear us because we aren't a one-man show. We have five guys that on any night can have a big game. We are a team that is a pretty scary draw in the (Division I district tournament)."
The district tournament draw will be held Sunday, Feb. 10.
Girls team prepares for regular-season finale
The girls team closes the regular season Friday, Feb. 8, at Hilliard Darby.
Central, which defeated the Panthers 43-39 on Jan. 8, then will get ready for the Division I district tournament. The Warhawks are seeded 25th of the 43-team field and will open the tournament Feb. 16 at 21st-seeded Mount Vernon.
The winner will play seventh-seeded Olentangy or 34th-seeded Darby in the second round Feb. 20.
Central split two games last week, defeating Bradley 33-30 on Jan. 29 at home and losing to host Westerville North 61-35 on Feb. 2.
Guard Andrea Hodge led the Warhawks with 16 points against Bradley and 14 points against North.