Late in his senior year of high school the thought crossed Will Bellâ€™s mind to retire his basketball shoes and quit the game he had played his entire life.
His grades werenâ€™t where they needed to be to attract interest from high-level schools, and he knew that junior college was his only route to keep playing, but he wasnâ€™t sure if he wanted to go in that direction.
Yet the lure of the hardwood was too much. He couldnâ€™t let it go.
â€œTo get as far as I did already and quit and not even give it a shot, I couldnâ€™t live with myself to do that,â€ the senior forward said.
So the Colorado Springs native went off to Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., averaging 11 points and seven rebounds as a sophomore.
Playing in junior college doesnâ€™t carry the same perks as Division I does, but it helped get Bell on track. He earned an associate degree from Northeastern JC and is now majoring in business management at CSU. And it helped him reach his dream of playing college basketball.
â€œItâ€™s not the glamour of D-I and everything like that; thereâ€™s stuff you have to sacrifice,â€ Bell said of playing in junior college. â€œAll in the end, itâ€™s paid off. I wouldnâ€™t regret it for one second.â€
His play attracted the attention of then CSU assistant DeMarlo Slocum, who told coach Tim Miles about an extremely athletic, if undersized, forward.
â€œI didnâ€™t know what to expect when he came in,â€ Miles said. â€œHe came in as a non-scholarship guy. By the end of last year I thought, â€˜Hey, heâ€™s going to be alright.â€™â€
In his first year at CSU, the 6-foot-6 Bell played a lot of his minutes alongside all-conference player Andy Ogide. Bell appeared in 30 games, averaging three points. Despite the modest numbers, there were flashes of the incredible athleticism Bell carries.
The 2010-11 season helped translate into a breakout year in his senior season.
Bell has started 23 games, averaging eight points and four rebounds. Heâ€™s had a couple notable performances along the way. He scored 12 points per game as CSU won the Don Haskins Invitational in December. And in the Ramsâ€™ opening Mountain West game against TCU, Bell amassed a career-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and four blocks.
â€œI (think) that Will Bell is the most improved player in our league,â€ UNLV coach Dave Rice said earlier this week. â€œ…He gives another dimension to their team.â€
But it hasnâ€™t been all roses for Bell. He had surgery on his knee in the off-season, and it has turned into a recurring, nagging injury that has limited his playing time and effectiveness recently.
Bell said that there are days where he can barely get out of bed because of the pain.
â€œItâ€™s frustrating. Iâ€™m not going to lie,â€ Bell said of his injury issues. â€œI want to be out there on the court every second I can and be able to perform to the best of my ability.â€
While injuries have been mentally taxing on Bell, the way he has responded has been a source of inspiration for his teammates and coaches.
â€œHeâ€™s had the knee struggles this year; heâ€™s still found a way to be very productive in our league,â€ Miles said. â€œI just hold Will in the highest regard, saying, â€˜Iâ€™m going to do this, Iâ€™m going to keep getting better.â€™â€
Bell is living his dream of playing college basketball and is hoping for a fairytale ending of an NCAA Tournament berth as he completes his collegiate career.
â€œItâ€™s starting to hit home now,â€ Bell said about the end of his career. â€œWhereâ€™s the time gone? Years have gone by. Itâ€™s a great feeling, but at the same time, itâ€™s bittersweet.â€
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.