It's no secret the skills and ability that possesses senior Jaleel Bell - Fitchburg State University starting guard and best player on the team. He can't help but shine a light on himself whenever he steps on the court.
Bell averaged a team-high 22 points per game this season, leading the falcons toward their second consecutive regular-season conference championship, and securing the #1-seed heading into what would be his last chance to play for a college basketball championship. Bell, a senior, transferred from Franklin Pierce University two years ago because he knew he could offer more than just taking up space on the bench.
"I made more of a selfish decision." said Bell, the defending Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year. "I could of went DIV. I (to Umass Lowell) but it was my junior year. I didn't want to sit on the bench again just to play DIV. I. I already did that my freshman year, played my sophomore year and I was not going to sit on the bench my junior year on a new team."
Having two years of eligibility left, Bell knew he had to go somewhere he could play and give it his all. That led him to Fitchburg State University, where Bell found his home along with comfort – getting to play alongside his hometown friend, Givaughn "Juice" Jones.
"Juice was somebody I looked up too. We were from the same city and we actually became roommates. Whether we wanted to fight each other or fight for each other or whether things were going good or bad, we always knew helping each other was something we wanted to do," Bell stated.
The teamwork mentality paid dividends during Bell's first season in 2015-16. The Falcons went on to win their conference championship before going onto capturing the first DIV. III National Tournament victory in program history. All of this, in Jones' last season with Fitchburg State, and Bell's first.
"We did something great, you know." Bell said. "We came and just conquered, we won you know, so I just did that for my team and put myself and them in the best situation that I felt I could."
It wasn't an instant click when Bell first got to Fitchburg State. Even though he knew Givaughn, he still had to surpass the hardships of being on a new team and adjusting to his new situation.
"It was not my team, I just got here, I'm the new kid. I didn't want to come in and step on anyone's toes. I had some people tell me just go do what you do, but there is always that thought in the back of my head, 'that's his spot, and in his spot I don't want to do something that he's supposed to be doing.' I wanted to play my game without shying away from the ball and still try to do me at the same time. It was not anything I was scared of it was more so out of respect for the guys that have already been here," said Bell.
Jaleel was getting what he wanted not because of awards and recognition, but because he was playing the type of basketball he always wanted to play at the collegiate level.
"I could care less if I score. I'll be ok with scoring eight points in every game, honestly as long we get the win. If it took for me having to sacrifice more, but we are winning, I would not care at all. I would throw away all my points. I would take a win and getting to the NCAA tournament only scoring a few points over me scoring more and doing other things."
That is the type of man Jaleel is. He puts the team over himself.
"They put me in the position to make plays and hit shots. Dudes like Leonny [Burgos] set the pace for me at times. It goes for [Josh] Bosworth stepping into somebody on defense and getting a rebound passing to Leonny, Leonny getting the ball down court and calling the play and either passing it to Chima [Ebele], Nick [Tracy], or even passing it to me. From their somebody setting a screen and me hitting the lane or an open shot. It's all them creating space for me to even get to the basket so all that is literally a team thing which stems from them doing their job, which in in turn allows me to do mine." said Bell on the systematic offense that allows his success.
Bell finds pride in being a teammate, as like many others he knows every player helps win a game, not just an excellent effort by one player. But maybe a very rare characteristic to find in a DIV. III college basketball star, with all eyes on him both on and off the court. It was surprising the find out Bell himself does not think he is that good of a basketball player, reiterating on what he needs to work on in order to get better.
"I'm not that good honestly, I'm not that good. My defense needs to get better - keeping my hands up, being more vocal, talking more to my teammates. My dribbling needs work, my shot, finishing at the basket, my free throws, I could go on forever I'm never satisfied with my game there are so many holes." Bell humbly noted about his overall game.
Bell averaged 17 ppg. his first season with falcons leading the team, He was named MASCAC Men's Basketball Player of the Year and gained First Team All-Conference honors, while totaling a team-most 432 points on 145-of-321 shooting from the field in 25 games for the Green and Gold.
Bell's personality and humble attitude allows him to see negatives to his game when all we see is positives. As an average fan watching him week in and week out we often think to ourselves, is there something that he can't do?
From shooting a deep three that pulls his team back in the lead or attacking the basket and getting fouled for an "and-one," his game appears flawless to the casual observer. Bell's persistence and humble attitude doesn't go unnoticed to Fitchburg State Head Coach Titus Manderson, who spoke very highly of Jaleel about what he has done, not just for Fitchburg State, but his hometown of Dorchester, Massachusetts as well.
"First and foremost as the senior captain he is a real positive representation of Dorchester and the city of Boston and is an example for any young player or potential recruit on the way we expect leadership and presentation to be a part of this program. You always see him in the library and what separates him is his work ethic and he has ownership of this program," said coach Manderson of his senior captain.
Jaleel took on the leadership role this past year when he became the top-scoring option for the team after seniors Givaughn Jones, Kwame Lee, and Anthony Muccioli graduated this past spring. It didn't come easy to Bell at first, who's natural persona is not one to lead vocally, but rather by example
"There's times where I have to speak up more and times where I'll be more reserved, but we all have our own roles. I know there's times where I might need to be little more aggressive." he said.
Bell is referring to the teams slow start in the first 15 games as they went 6-9 with three decisive losses. Bell knew it. Something had to change as the team chemistry was not lining up the way it did a year ago when they won the championship.
"It was a rocky start for us." Bell stated. "We lost games we shouldn't have lost, we got blown out of games we shouldn't have gotten blown out in. It took us some time to get the chemistry right because we had different guys coming in and some not coming back. I wouldn't take any of that back now."
Bell just isn't a leader by his own merit, but how he makes the players around him want to play better. If it's from tearing up the scoreboard with his impressive scoring ability, or if it's the level of play he expects from himself and everyone else he shares the court with.
Jaleel strives to be the best version of himself, he tries to put a lot of pressure on himself in order to give it his all and become successful in anything he does. Growing up in Dorchester, MA in the METCO program which allows kids to attend better schools not in their area, he learned to make himself into someone he could be proud of at a young age.
"Some people thought I had a kid." Bell stated jokingly. "My nephew, who is seven, came to my game. I also have two nieces and two god sons who I baby sit and do other types of stuff for them. I'm a really family orientated person, so for them I feel I can't make so many mistakes or setbacks because I always know I have eyes on me. I have to set myself to a higher standard for them. I'm just a little piece in this whole big puzzle."
Bell is used to the pressure and uses it to add fuel to his fire, being the first man out of his family to attend college and stay on campus, and also the first one in his family to receive a scholarship.
With basketball, Bell knew he had a way out and an opportunity to better himself and his family. Bell took his first major-step into basketball when he was in 8th grade, playing with and against kids twice his age. That is where he developed a fight and physicality in him that he would transfer onto the court and in the classroom. Bell's family is the back bone of the man he is today with his mom being one of his biggest influences.
Jaleel is not the type of person to bask in his own glory, "Every Salem State game." Bell said, with his head coach, Manderson, both attending and coaching for the Vikings in the past, Bell has said, "I wanted to win those games for Coach Titus and for the seniors who were never going to play on this court again."
Jaleel likes the guys who come up the hard way and who have to work for everything that they get in life, like his NBA-idol, Isaiah Thomas, who came from the last pick in the draft to emerging superstardom for the Boston Celtics. Bells persistence and dedication to his craft on and off the court are what make him such a spectacular person and player that you just don't see in the average basketball player. When asked what's next for him after he plays his last college game Bell stated, "my legs aren't done, they're long from done. I still have a lot of basketball in me."
Bell hopes to continue his basketball career overseas with increased competition to see how far he can take himself if he leaves all he has on the court.
Article courtesy of the Falcon Report - Ryan Moore