As his team left the court at halftime, St. John’s Catholic Prep boys basketball coach Stu Wilson was pulled aside by someone who suggested adjustments that might help the Vikings in the second half.
Coaches routinely get such advice from assistants and veteran players.
But in this case, the recommendations Wilson heard came from Josh Bell. A junior at the time, Bell had been a member of the Vikings for just four or five days. He wasn’t even eligible to play in that game, in fact, because he had just transferred midway through the 2018-19 season from St. Maria Goretti.
“He’s only been around us for a couple of days,” said Wilson, figuring most players forced to watch a game would’ve been focused on postgame plans rather than trying to make observations that could help their team. “He was totally engaged.”
That moment foreshadowed how Bell responded after being forced to miss his entire senior season because of an ACL tear he suffered while playing in a summer league game.
Unable to play this winter, Bell was converted into an assistant coach for the Vikings. He embraced the role. And while he saw limited action at St. John’s during his high school career, playing about a half a season there, the basketball insight Bell gained as a very young assistant should help him as he continues his career at the next level.
Bell has committed to St. Bonaventure as a preferred walk-on. While he didn’t get a full athletic scholarship, he said an academic scholarship, grants and other funding come close to providing him with a full ride to what he described as his dream school.
Wilson was quick to point out that this opportunity hinged heavily on Bell’s hard work in the classroom, not just his basketball ability.
“He’s almost done with his freshman year of college credit-wise because he’s been taking Mount classes through our program with Mount St. Mary’s his senior year,” Wilson said. “So academically, he’s a very sound student.”
Academic considerations played a vital part in Bell’s decision to transfer from Goretti to St. John’s. For years, he had targeted St. Bonaventure, originally because of the school’s medical program.
“One of the biggest factors in me transferring to St. John’s is our school has an automatic acceptance program with several colleges,” he said. “And St. Bonaventure was one of them, so that definitely caught my eye.
“My coach has always been adamant about trying to get us to the school we want to go to, and our athletic director [Peter Strickland] is good friends with the St. Bonaventure coach,” Bell said. “So after talking to him and discussing some things, the St. Bonaventure coach was very willing to work with me and have me as a member of the team.”
Bell, a left-handed point guard, was expected to play a prominent role this season, especially after making strides that were evident during summer league games with St. John’s.
“I was really excited about the change that he was going to be able to show on the court, handling the ball a little bit more, being able to be a bigger point guard for us,” said Wilson, adding that Bell’s advancement opened the door for others to do different things.
But during a summer league game, Bell tore the ACL in his left knee. He suffered the same injury in the same knee when he was a sophomore.
“At the moment, I was really distraught because I tore it once before and I know the long journey that it is coming back from an ACL injury,” Bell said. “But I was trying to stay optimistic.”
Getting to help coach helped make sitting on the bench less painful.
“My coach was a really big factor in me changing my mindset and overcoming it because he changed from me being an injured player to, I assume, more of a coaching role this year,” Bell said. “I was even listed on the team and everything as one of the assistant coaches for the St. John’s team this year.”
Wilson said some of St. John’s JV players called him Coach Josh.
“He really did a great job of taking advantage of this year,” Wilson said. “I think most kids, faced with the scenario he had, may not have handled it as well as he did. He was an asset to us. Josh has always been a very cerebral kind of kid. He thinks the game, he understands the game.”
Getting to view basketball from a coach’s perspective expanded Bell’s knowledge base.
“Of course, I was disappointed about not being able to play my senior year,” said Bell, who nonetheless figured he got an even better grasp of the game by sizing it up from the sidelines as a coach. “I took it as an experience and opportunity to learn.”
Soon after starting high school, Bell began thinking about playing basketball in college. He might not be the most noticeable athlete on the court, although he’s athletic, but he has a knack for getting results. Wilson thinks Bell’s best basketball is ahead of him.
“He’ll do some things that will wow you. But he’ll kill you all day long with the basic things because you just haven’t been able to stop it,” Wilson said. “And I think that that’s the piece that is going to make him special, is that he’s going to be able to consistently get you with things. That if you finally do take it away, he’s going to have a countermove to be able to go that he’s worked real hard on [and will] continue to have success.”