Bell has been the Huskies' most consistent inside presence in 2004-05.
Nov. 22, 2004
Webster's Dictionary defines a phenomenon as, "one outstanding for a quality or achievement." As a track star in high school and a rising basketball talent at Washington, Jill Bell is quickly showing the world just what it takes to be phenomenal.
Bell may be better known by Husky fans for her basketball prowess, but it's her track talents that have taken her around the world. A talented prep long jumper, Bell set a Junior Olympic Nationals age-group record with a mark of 20-feet, 2 1/2 inches in the long jump her freshman year at Bellevue (Wash.) High School, and placed eighth in the event at the 1999 World Youth Track and Field Championships in Poland.
As the cold weather forced Bell indoors in the winter of her freshman year at Bellevue, however, the talented leaper found she needed to stay active ... and the rest is Husky basketball history.
Bell's strength and jumping ability were a natural fit for the basketball court, where she soon emerged as one of the top young players in the West Region. The Seattle native led Bellevue to the state tournament in all four of her prep seasons, including a fifth-place finish in 2000 and a third-place effort in 2002.
"My stepfather played basketball when he was in high school, and he told me to try it," says Bell. "I really enjoyed it. In track, you compete more individually, but basketball is a team sport. It is nice to have other people there to pick you up."
Still, however, her focus remained on the track, where she captured a pair of state long jump titles and helped Bellevue's 4x400-meter squad to a state crown her sophomore year. Scholarship offers from some of the nation's top track programs littered Bell's kitchen table her senior year, but it was a phone call from former Washington assistant basketball coach Sunny Smallwood which first planted in Bell's mind the thought of a career in college basketball.
"I was originally going to go to college on a track scholarship," she says. "But then Sunny called me and asked if I would be interested in playing basketball for Washington. I visited the campus, talked to the team, talked to the coaches and I really liked it. I decided that I wanted to do basketball instead of track."
A goal-driven person, Bell felt she already accomplished much on the track, and that basketball offered her a chance to reach new heights.
Her freshman year at Washington, however, brought only new lows.
A torn ligament in her thumb caused her to undergo surgery, and ultimately led to her redshirting the season. Always a hard worker, however, Bell put her time on the bench to good use, learning more about the game and working hard to get stronger. Her teammates took notice.
"It's hard when you go through an injury, especially when it's your freshman year," says junior Kristen O'Neill. "There is so much to learn. In some ways, her injury was good thing for her, because it gave her a chance to sit and observe and really learn things before she was thrown in the fire."
Bell showed in the 2003-04 season that those lessons were well-learned. Although relatively new to the sport, Bell led the team in offensive rebounds, and was voted the team's Most Improved Player for the second-straight year. Washington's coaches already see the potential she has to take her game to the top.
"I believe that Jill is the best athlete in the Pac-10, bar none," says ninth-year head coach June Daugherty. "I really, truly believe that. She is so fortunate in her athleticism and her size that she has. She is very special."
Her teammates agree.
"Jill is only going to get better and better; she's becoming a phenomenal basketball player," O'Neill says. "One of the scary things about her is that sometimes she doesn't even realize how good she is. Her options are endless. She could really take this sport by storm."
One of Bell's options could include broadcasting, a career she is actively pursing while finishing her college degree.
"I want to be a sports broadcaster, anything in the field of basketball or football," she says. "I had the opportunity to work for ABC during the Washington vs. UCLA football game. I got to do the statistics and work in that area. It was really fun."
Bell's teammates say that having fun is one of the sophomore's most appealing qualities. Bell frequently uses her sense of humor and talent at impersonations to relieve tensions and brighten the day of those around her.
"Jill is not only one of the most athletic people, but she is hilarious," says teammate and roommate Angie Jones. "Her facial expressions, her jokes, and her sarcasm all make Jill so much fun to be around. Everything that she does is just so comical. She is also really caring. Anytime that anyone is having a bad day, she'll do anything she can to cheer them up. She is really focused on the team -- she'll do whatever she can to make sure that everyone is doing well."
During her freshman season, Bell and former teammate Kirsten Brockman would set a goal for her to reach before each game. With Brockman having retired from basketball this year, Bell is continuing the tradition on her own, but says it is still her teammates who are her inspiration on the court.
"When I hear them cheering for me on the court, it really makes me want to do great things," she says.
When it comes to role models, though, Bell looks farther than just the UW bench. In fact, her gaze takes her all the way to Minnesota, home of Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett.
"That is my guy," she says. "He's a power forward like me and he just has every element to his game -- a great three-point shot, a great defender and rebounder, and he works hard. He is just awesome. Whenever the Timberwolves are playing, I watch him and try to do the same things."
Defense, rebounding and hard work are all key principles of Bell's on-court philosophy, which is all about putting the team before the individual.
"I hope that when fans go home after a game, they think that I put all my effort out on the court, that I really tried hard and that I just helped the team in every way I could, defensively and offensively," she says. "I want them think of me as a great team player."
Bell needn't worry. Her team-first attitude and amazing athletic skills guarantee that Husky fans think Jill Bell is a phenomenon, in every sense of the word.