Bell a slam dunk with kids at Warriors camp
By Lou Fancher
The only thing louder than Warriors fans in Oracle Arena were the roughly 60 kids gathered Dec. 21, in the Tice Valley Community Gymnasium in Walnut Creek.
When Warriors rookie forward Jordan Bell leapt, hurtling high over the head of 7-year-old Dylan Moran of Lafayette to slam dunk a basketball, ear-splitting cheers and applause erupted from boys and girls participating in the Under Armor-sponsored Warriors Basketball Camp.
After hosting more than 4,000 kids in 28 sold-out summer camps in the Bay Area and Central Coast, a special feature of the Warriors winter camps for kids ages 7-15 remains a visit from a current or alumni player.
“I tell campers I’m jealous of them, because this is the team they get to fall in love with,” says senior director of youth basketball Jeff Addiego. “How much you get entrenched in it as a kid is different than for adults.”
Bell, two days later in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, scored a career-high 20 points and his first NBA double-double. But on this day as he fielded questions kids pelted at him, a surprisingly soft-spoken Bell shared that his hometown is Long Beach, he’s 22 years old, the most points he’s scored in a game is 55, his shoe size is 14, he’s listed at 6 feet, 9 inches tall, and he has no plans to write an autobiography.
“Nah, I’m not important enough … yet,” he told the kids.
The biggest difference between playing pro versus high school or college basketball he said was, “I don’t have to go to school,” which engendered more cheers and laughter.
To fill his spare time, he’s thinking of learning to play piano, a skill Bell admires in his sister, who taught herself to play. If he hadn’t switched from early football aspirations and taken up basketball in high school, going on to win accolades as a leading shot blocker for the Oregon Ducks, he’d be a dentist.
Instead, he’s drilling down on improving his game after being selected second-round, 38th-pick by the Chicago Bulls and snapped up draft-night in 2017 by the Warriors.
Bell, who plays with aggressive athleticism he admits wasn’t instinctive but developed over time, says, “I’ve been stepping back on the leader role that I had in college. I was always vocal, helping people out defensively. Now, I have to be the student, press the reset button.”
Asked in an interview for specifics, he says, “Screening — like you just stand — you can’t do that in the NBA. It has to be a quick hit and move.”
Early lessons stick with him: step on the floor knowing you’re the toughest guy out there; do not let your guy get the ball.
“He can’t score if he doesn’t have the ball,” Bell says. Primarily, be a star in your own row. “Not everyone can be a LeBron, Tristan Thompson, Draymond Green.” Or equal to other players he admires, like Scottie Pippen and Andre Iguodala.
“We’ve been blessed to have high-character guys who let the kids know it’s not easy, it takes hard work, dedication. To hammer that point is important,” said Addiego, who remembers the earliest camp days.
“In 1999, we were winning 17 games a year, a much different position than we’re in now. We did four camps: now we do 60-plus.”
Because the team wasn’t as much of a draw back in 2000 when the program launched, Addiego says the camps had to be super effective. “Especially with video games and the Internet, how would we get kids to a court to learn teamwork, communicating, handling frustration? We had to prove they’re learning, help them find human connections here.”
Bell can still remember his first thrilling basketball moment. It arrived with his first dunk during a game against Lakewood High School during his freshman year. “It felt amazing. It was a super big accomplishment because I couldn’t dunk at first. I was fast, but not athletic like now.”
Departing with a message especially for girls attending the camp, Bell says he likes to tell kids, “Play without letting people create barriers. Don’t let people say you can’t be as good as a boy or that girls can’t dunk.”