ALL'S WELL in Wayns' World.
Really, how it could not be?
Not only is Maalik Wayns, a 6-1, 192-pound senior point guard at Roman Catholic High, considered the city's top scholastic basketball player.
His name also can be found in lofty locations on national rankings lists and he is signed to play college ball for a program (Villanova) that pretty much owns the local spotlight.
Is there pressure? Of course. Does Wayns realize that some people this season will attend Roman's games mostly (only?) because of his presence? He's no dummy.
He also knows this: The best stars are those who keep evvvvvvverything in perspective.
In the midst of the holiday season, at an out-of-the-way college (Gwynedd-Mercy) 21 miles from Roman, an overflow crowd last night turned out to watch Wayns and the Cahillites battle North Catholic, the defending Catholic League champion, in a Red Division contest.
Playingwise, Wayns satisfied the fans by totaling 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds in a 58-55 win that wound up being hairy.
Though Roman led by 50-39 with 4:47 remaining, a partial stall did not produce the desired results. There were turnovers and missed shots at one end. At the other, among other things, Jaleel Mack buried a trio of treys.
His last, with 4.4 seconds remaining, moved North within 56-55. But on the inbound play, following a timeout at 3.8, the Falcons allowed Andre Horne to break free downcourt unattended and Kevin Regan, the football quarterback, hit him with a pass for an easy, buzzer-beating layup.
For those who paid attention, Wayns also provided assurance that, yes, he's enjoying himself and that his head is not even close to basketball-sized.
Fourth quarter. Wayns got way ahead of the field. The chance to uncork a bring-the-house down dunk was there. He motored to the hoop. Left his feet and began to soar . . .
Oops. Clang. The ball slammed hard against the rim. Baskets are still 10 feet high. Not 9 1/2.
"I could tell as I jumped that it wasn't gonna work," Wayns said.
Luckily for Wayns, Roman maintained possession and there was a stoppage in play. As the house buzzed and he peeled toward the sideline opposite Roman's bench, Maalik smiled broadly.
Other stars might have mumbled curse words under their breath. Might have done something - wiped supposedly sweaty hands on pants, for instance - to steer the fault someplace else. Not Maalik Wayns. Not the city's newest megastar. He smiled.
"My AAU coach was busting on me," he said. "Some family members, too. They were sitting right there. It was fun."
He laughed. "I need another chance at a dunk, man. Next time I'll dunk it. No doubt."
Chris McNesby, Roman's first-year coach, said Wayns has been quite the joy.
"Coming off a great summer, there was a lot of hype," McNesby said. "For any young guy, all that stuff is hard. Sometimes I think people expect him to walk on water. All we tell him is, 'You just have to be Maalik.' "
And that is?
"Point guard first, and leader," McNesby said. "Everything else second."
Sounds great to the target of those words.
"I don't get caught up in the hype," Wayns said. "I know getting tagged as the best player in the city brings things with it, but I'm just out here trying to get wins for my team. I don't need to score 20 points, 30 points. I need wins.
"My family and friends keep me humble. I'm just a teenager [still 17, he won't turn 18 until May] trying to have fun with my life."
By his own count, Wayns figured five different Falcons took turns trying to guard him. From Woody Redding to Bob Makor to Mack to Mike Terry to Josh Stevens; no guarantee on the order. Oddly, he scored all of his points in the middle two quarters and did not even take a shot in the first.
Luckily, junior guard Rakeem Brookins is also quite the bright light, witness that he finished with 20 points and three assists and saved 12 of his markers for the fourth quarter. Included was an 8-for-8 performance at the line.
"When the ball's in Rakeem's hands, great things can happen," Wayns said.
Mack's second trey moved North, which received 15 points, seven boards and two blocks from 6-9 soph Rakeem Christmas, within 54-51 at 0:31. Redding's steal led to two free throws for Terry, who hit the first at 24.6. Koron Reed (eight rebounds) engulfed the missed second shot and Wayns went to the line for a one-and-one at 19.2.
Though he failed (Roman was 12-for-12 at the stripe to that point), the ball bounced over the baseline and possession went to the Cahillites. Brookins nailed both halves of a double-bonus at 17.0, setting up the aforementioned end-game sequence.
"The game was ours," Wayns said. "Like coach said, we just had to finish it off."
Said McNesby: "We needed to be stronger with the ball. We made it scarier than it had to be. If we'd made them chase us better, we would have gotten layups."
As it was, not without nervousness, Roman did get the win.
In Wayns' World, fittingly, W's are what matter most. *