ARLINGTON — Jelly Perry has an ability to dazzle the crowd with her polished ball handling, slashing drives and tough finishes at the basket.
“She can make the crowd go ‘ooh and aah,’” longtime Lakewood girls basketball coach Chris Walster said of his team’s go-to scorer, who averages 16.8 points per game. “She does some pretty amazing stuff.”
Yet even more impressive than Perry’s scoring prowess is her exceptional ability to crash the boards.
The 5-foot-7 Lakewood senior guard is averaging an eye-popping 17.3 rebounds per game this season, including a school-record 26 against Bellingham.
Perry followed the record-breaking performance with 25 rebounds against Squalicum and 20 against Shorewood, totaling 71 boards over a three-game span.
“She’ll get those rebounds where four or five people are all going up for (the ball) at one time,” Walster said, “and she just seems to come out with it.”
Perry has grabbed at least 12 rebounds in all 10 games this season, recording a double-double in every contest.
“I’m going to fight until I get it,” Perry said of her rebounding mentality. “And if I don’t get it, I’m going to fight to get the next one. I just want to get every single one.”
Perry is typically at least several inches shorter than the opposing team’s tallest player, but makes up for the height discrepancy with superb leaping ability.
“I think sometimes people underestimate the 5-foot-7 gal that’s standing beside you, thinking, ‘I’ve got this, so I can just reach up and get the rebound,’” Walster said. “And suddenly she’s jumped about 12 inches over the top of you.
“People know that she’s a good rebounder. But I think until they’ve seen it live and in person, they just don’t get it.”
Walster said Perry’s rebounding success doesn’t necessarily stem from blocking out and getting inside position. Instead, she meshes her vertical leap with quickness, timing, aggression and physicality.
“I just kind of wait for (the ball) — for the perfect height — and I just jump up and grab it,” she said.
Perry said she’s had a passion for some of the game’s less glamorous aspects — rebounds and steals — ever since she began playing Boys and Girls Club basketball at about age 5.
“I’ve just always loved chasing after the ball and getting steals and rebounds,” said Perry, a standout three-sport athlete who played outside hitter on Lakewood’s volleyball team and shortstop on the softball team. “I just love rebounding. It’s my favorite thing.”
Perry’s leaping ability also is on display when she jumps for the Cougars (5-5 overall, 1-2 Northwest Conference) on opening tip-offs, winning many of them despite a height disadvantage.
“She’s probably the most athletic basketball player I’ve ever had,” said Walster, who’s in his 24th season coaching Lakewood girls basketball. “She’s just very strong, very quick (and has) surprising jumping ability.”
Her vertical jump also helps her on drives to the basket.
“She’ll get by you and a lot of people think they’re going to block her from behind,” Walster said. “(But) it doesn’t happen very often, because she elevates so well.”
Perry, a four-year starter for the Cougars, began her freshman season on the junior-varsity team. She didn’t stay there for long.
“By day two, we realized I’d made a mistake and moved her up to the varsity,” Walster said.
Perry averaged nine points and 7.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, followed by 10.9 points and seven rebounds as a junior.
And with just a handful of other varsity returnees from last season’s team, Perry is taking on an even larger role this winter. She is averaging about six more points and 10 more rebounds per game than last season.
“We’re kind of down in terms of a supporting cast for her,” Walster said. “Most teams know that when it comes to Lakewood, if you can stop Jelly Perry, you can have a pretty good chance of having a positive outcome when you play us. And in spite of that, she’s done really well.”
Perry is improving her outside shooting this season, which has made her more difficult to guard. She also excels on defense, having averaged several steals per game over the past three seasons.
“She’s kind of our best everything,” Walster said. “Jelly Perry might be the best female basketball player (our school) has ever had. If not, (she’s) in the top two or three.”
“Pound for pound, inch for inch,” he added, “she’s the best we’ve ever had.”