Bell regains spotlight in role off bench

The senior guard posted his first double-double on Tuesday against SEMO.

Senior guard Keion Bell puts the ball up on a fast break last month at Mizzou Arena. Bell had his first double-double against SEMO with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Maneater File Photo

Keion Bell stood at midcourt and stared down the obstacle in front of him — six people.

Six people lined up single-file in the lane opposite a packed student section. They alone stood between the senior guard and Missouri basketball glory.

Bell would run-up to the Southeastern Conference logo at the top of the paint, plant two feet on either side of the figure and take flight, sailing 10 feet in the air in front of a raucous student section at Mizzou Madness before throwing down a one-handed slam.

Perfect, he thought. After all, Bell had been dunking like that since the 10th grade.

So Bell exhaled and, to little difficulty, ran, jumped, flew, dunked and landed, the MU basketball version of veni, vidi, vici — I came, I saw, I conquered.

The dunk landed the highly touted Pepperdine transfer, still an enigma to much of Columbia, atop SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the week and made Bell a household name around campus for the No. 12 Tigers.

“I wanted to go to a place that knew me,” he said. “And not only knew me, but they needed me as much as I needed them.”

Sure, the Tigers (7-1) could certainly have used Bell at the beginning of the year. Over three years, he averaged 16.4 points per game for the Waves. He was their point guard and on-ball scorer and made chronic highlight reel dunks on the break.

MU coach Frank Haith jumped at the chance to add him to a stable of guards that included All-American Phil Pressey, standout freshman Negus Webster-Chan, Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and Michael Dixon, then still a member of the Tiger roster.

“We are excited to add a veteran, established Division I player like Keion to our program,” Haith said in June 2011, when Bell announced his decision to transfer to MU. “He is obviously a young man that can score the basketball. He was consistently one of the top offensive players in the West Coast Conference the last three years, but we like his athleticism and what that can mean for us defensively as well. Together he and Earnest (Ross) will push our returning players in practice and then have a chance to make a larger impact in two seasons with a year at Mizzou already under their belts.”

Bell opened the season in Haith’s starting lineup as a ball handler opposite Pressey and hopefully an off-ball scoring option. That hope did not materialize.

Through four starts to open the year, Bell only scored in double-digits once.

Haith switched up his starting five following a loss to No. 5 Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Webster-Chan started as Pressey’s running mate. Bell would come off the bench as a defensive stopper.

With that swap, Bell entered back into obscurity, losing the fame that came with the over-the-top pre-game introduction that sent smoke spewing toward the rafters of Mizzou Arena from behind each basket.

Haith even called out Bell at his Dec. 3 press conference saying Webster-Chan, the backup point guard, and not Bell, was the best defender on the team.

Bell responded a day later. On the offensive end, he had his first double-double as a Tiger with 12 points and 11 rebounds in Missouri’s comeback win against Southeast Missouri State. Defensively, he switched on to SEMO’s Corey Wilford who had 14 first-half points and held him scoreless in the second half.

In one critical stretch, he hunted down Wilford as he streaked to the basket on the break and rejected his dunk attempt, leading to a Tiger bucket on the other end.

“You don’t coach basketball, you coach people,” Haith said. “So we just spent a lot of time coaching Keion and getting him to see the value that he has to this basketball team … being a part of winning, how special that is and if you do these things, you’ll help us win basketball games.”

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