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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

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The junior rim protector’s value should not be understated

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Athletes like to talk about their “game face”, that much is common knowledge. In the heat of competition a player doesn’t want to give away any ground by looking too happy, too goofy, or, heaven forbid, too emotional. One prefers a look of focus, of grit, and perhaps a little intimidation. For Oregon Junior Jordan Bell, that aspect is covered.

If he’s not celebrating with his teammates or cheering from the bench, Bell can usually be found on the court exhibiting a scowl that alone would incite some hesitancy from opposing players to venture into his vicinity, aside from the high probability of having their shot blocked or altered. With his low-furled brow, sharp jaw line and flared nostrils, Bell has no trouble pulling off the infamous “tough guy” look. The look is perfect, but Bell’s game further emphasizes the toughness.

Bell arrived in Eugene with fellow highly-touted 2014 recruits Dillon Brooks and Casey Benson with the tall task of inheriting the roll of Oregon’s featured rim protector after post-men Tony Woods, Waverly Austin, and Ben Carter had held down the paint while Oregon ventured into the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons. Perhaps a bit undersized for a true Center at 6’9” Bell quickly put any worries to rest with his stellar defensive play as a freshman. Bell blocked 94 shots in 2014-2015, obliterating the aforementioned Woods’ previous school record for a season of 51. Bell’s athleticism and subsequent ability to jump out of the gym easily made up for the few inches in height he often gave up to opposing Centers. With Pac 12 Player of the Year Joseph Young pouring in points Bell’s offense wasn’t necessarily imperative, but he still provided an array of dunks and inside buckets that netted him a 59.7% field goal percentage, the second-highest for a single season in UO history. But offensively he was still very raw.

Bell began his sophomore campaign on the bench nursing a foot injury and watching as transfer Chris Boucher captivated fans and players alike with his own unique shot-swatting ability. Boucher would end up conquering Bell’s single season block record by compiling an astounding 110 by the end of the season. After returning to the court however Bell was able to ensnare the title of UO’s all-time leading shot blocker in only his 50th game as a Duck. Because of his stellar play during Bell’s absence Boucher had earned the starting spot at Center, relegating Bell to a 6th man roll. Bell was undeterred however, seeming to get better and better as the season progressed. He and Boucher became a “block party”, combining their rim-protecting abilities to wreak havoc on opposing defenses as Oregon stormed to a Pac 12 regular season and conference tournament title and earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Bell was sensational in the Sweet Sixteen against perennial power Duke, recording 13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals as Oregon rolled. In the Elite Eight Bell corralled 12 rebounds against Oklahoma and came through with one of the best blocks of the year, stuffing Sooner forward Dante Buford on a power jam attempt.

Expectations were sky high for Oregon entering the 2016-2017 season and so far they’ve lived up to the hype, soaring to another Pac12 regular season title and Top 10 ranking. This season Bell has regained the starting Center position and along with his usual defensive dominance has shown fans a plethora of new tricks in his offensive arsenal. Not only has Bell developed a slew of new post-moves and a nifty jump-hook, but he’s also added a nice touch to his jumper outside the key, even hitting a clutch 3-pointer against UCLA. Not only that but Bell has been seen on a number of occasions taking the ball down the court with a fairly smooth handle, and twice this season Euro-stepping a backpedaling defender on his way in for a layup. This has led to an average of 10.8 points per game for Oregon’s resident “tough guy”. But make no mistake; Bell still hangs his hat on defense. And after placing in the top ten in the conference in blocks, steals, and rebounds, Bell was named Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

But before any of that can be addressed, the present must be considered and Bell will again be vital to Oregon as the Ducks prepare for what they hope could be a run all the way to the Final Four, more so than ever after Boucher was lost for the tournament with a torn ACL. To get to Phoenix, defense will be key, and Oregon’s defensive anchor Bell seems poised for another stellar tournament performance or two. After all, it comes naturally to Bell, as naturally as the game face he presents on the court. “I have really good timing”, Bell responded when asked about his shot-blocking ability, “I used to play Guitar Hero a lot.”