SUBSCRIBE

For AAU girls basketball team Maryland Belles, positive attitude speaks volumes in bid for national title

Every time a player on the 2019 Maryland Belles enters a game, coach Joe McAleer doesn’t have to wait even two seconds before his Amateur Athletic Union girls basketball team’s bench shouts encouragement.

After all, if there was a delay, that would mean his players had broken his “two-second rule.”

The requirement to immediately “pump up” teammates at each substitution is one of the aspects McAleer has instituted while coaching his three daughters and balancing a career as a co-owner of a money manager firm.

That positivity will continue at the U.S. Junior Nationals 17-U National Championships from July 22 to 25 in Washington, where the Belles will again face some of the country’s top competition.

“I’ll get a lot of strange looks from [opposing] players,” McAleer said. “But we believe that if you are cheering and supporting and loud and you care more about the team than yourself personally, then we will be successful as a team.”

After finishing his baseball career at Washington College in the late 1980s, McAleer started coaching at Franklin, his alma mater. As he entered the finance industry, he led the boys basketball team and started his mission to relieve pressure that young athletes face from coaches’ and parents’ expectations.

A few years later, McAleer partnered with longtime friend David Berman — the two lived and worked together before starting their own families — to form Berman McAleer.

And soon after, McAleer started coaching his daughters.

First, he helped as an assistant on teams for Sara, 20, and Hannah, 18. He’s coached Molly, a rising junior at Maryvale Prep, for about the past seven years.

The core of the Belles has played together since late elementary school and has grown through McAleer’s “just do us” mentality.

Point guard Aleah Nelson (McDonogh) doesn’t know how old she was — probably in fourth or fifth grade — during a tournament in Florida, but she does remember the squad, then the Maryland Attitude, lost all of its games, the last by about 30 points.

As the players sat in a circle after that drubbing, McAleer delivered a message.

“He just looks at us,” Nelson recalled. “He’s like: ‘I don’t care about the score. You guys gave it your all.’

“Even though I was young, it still kind of stuck with me that it’s really not about winning and losing — it’s about attitude and effort,” Nelson said. “It really changed my mindset, and I’ve really grown a lot because of him.”

Those moments have continued as McAleer estimated the Belles have won seven national tournaments in the past four years.

The team performs high-five lines during games, when each bench player is assigned an active teammate. When their partner scores, the reserve runs down the bench — from McAleer at the top to the last member at the end — for slaps and cheers.

And they aim to be the loudest in the gym. At a tournament last year, the Belles hollered while warming up for an 8 a.m. game because, forward AJ Davis (McDonogh) said, the gym needed “to be livened up.”

“It makes our court stand out,” Davis said. “We’re all loud and happy and having fun and that turns heads in the crowd.”

The team’s most hectic parts of the schedule come during recruiting periods in April and July, so McAleer has had recent nights holed up in a hotel, logging onto his computer for work around 11 p.m., while traveling with the Belles.

The team went to Indianapolis earlier this month before playing the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago last week, finishing a combined 7-4.

When they take the court for their season finale this weekend, McAleer said they’ll face a challenge again playing up an age group in the highest bracket.

But the coach will make sure to start each game the same. He’ll strike up conversation with the opposing coach while the girls shake hands with the other players and the referees. Then, when the starters take the court, the cheering will begin — at most — two seconds later.

“It’s like love and like family,” Nelson said. “He makes it clear that it’s more about giving our entire effort than it is about wins and losses.”

ccaplan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/CallieCaplan

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad