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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
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Headline: Bell Hopes To Provide Depth Inside For OSU
By Kyle Lamb
A tall, wide-eyed teen sat alone in the bleachers of the Thomas Worthington High School gymnasium with a gym bag and a basketball. This Utah native was a fish out of water halfway across the country.
Just then, he received a tap on the shoulder and looked up to Ohio State team captain Terence Dials leaning in to give him a small whisper – perhaps a small token of advice from another 6-9 player. Then, a television crew sat down to introduce themselves and take the player off to do an interview.
Just 24 hours after arriving in Columbus and beginning summer quarter classes, Brayden Bell's Ohio State basketball career had begun in earnest.
The 6-9 Bell signed with Ohio State last November. In fact, he was one of the first players to take a leap of faith with new OSU head basketball coach Thad Matta. Bell, a product of Salt Lake City's Brighton High School, did so and spurned his home state school, Utah, in the process.
"It's kind of scary leaving all my family and friends behind and whatnot, but I think it will be good for me to concentrate on just school and basketball and not much of the other stuff," Bell said. "I'm looking forward to coming there. I think it's a new challenge for me."
Arriving for classes on June 18, Bell took another giant leap into the McDonald's Summer League to play alongside another new Buckeye, Sylvester Mayes, as well as Dials and fellow senior, Je'Kel Foster.
Under Dials' guidance, the Buckeyes are hoping the freshman that averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds a game as a high school senior can challenge Matt Sylvester and Ivan Harris for playing time at power forward this season. Bell is also capable of spending time down in the post, if need be.
Bringing to the table a three-point shot and an ability to rebound, Bell is almost an ideal cog to Matta's game philosophy of four out and one in.
"They told me I would play the power forward. I don't want to come in and say I'm going to start, because I don't know about that," Bell said modestly. "But I'm going to definitely try to earn my spot."
Having a lot of interest from some of the top schools in the country, Bell was entertaining offers and interest from Louisville, UCLA, Oregon State, Utah, BYU, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, Pepperdine and many others. However, a string of injuries in the spring and summer before his senior season caused him to miss several AAU tournaments, and many teams backed off.
Bell's stock plummeted in some rankings from being a top-50 to top-75 caliber player to, in many cases, not even being up towards the top 100. Within a month of being named the new Ohio State head coach, Matta had made Bell a priority and was already involved.
Three months after getting the job, Matta had Bell in on campus for an official visit to Ohio State along with Mayes, a 6-2 JUCO guard, originally from Ft. Wayne, Ind.
The two players hit it off pretty well on their visit, and even spoke on the phone a few times after leaving. Both were signed later in the fall for the November signing period.
"Honestly, I haven't really been able to keep up with him too much, but I've been talking to the coaches and they have told me some things about how he's doing and everything," Bell explained. "I found a magazine that had him in it, and I've heard he's doing really well. It will be fun playing with him."
As Brighton High School was struggling to barely remain over .500, Bell was watching Ohio State throughout the season exceeding expectations in Matta's first season as a head coach.
"I watched them quite a bit," he recalled. "They didn't have a lot of games on, because some of them were on the ESPN package, which I didn't have. But I saw them quite a bit on some of the national games on ESPN and CBS."
The season, which was punctuated with a win over No. 1-ranked Illinois, was enough to get Bell excited for his freshman season.
The preseason expectations for this year have Ohio State making the NCAA Tournament. Bell said that even people back home were looking forward to some of the potential accomplishments during his Buckeye career.
Bell's imagination ran wild as he left for Columbus.
"Yeah, it's great to think about," he said. "Some of my friends have been looking at things on the Internet about our team for this next year, and ESPN had us as a four-seed for the NCAA Tournament for this year, and that's really exciting to think about.
"It's just kind of weird going from high school to all of a sudden thinking about being a four-seed in the NCAA."
It didn't take long for Bell to think of himself as a Buckeye, either.
Although one would normally expect a player from Utah to struggle with a decision to attend a university so far away, such as Ohio State is for Bell, he said he didn't have a hard time reaching his decision last fall. In fact, it was an easy one despite the pressure to stay home.
"I really just liked Coach Matta a lot, and I felt comfortable there," Bell recalled. "I felt like I would fit in."
"I mean, everybody is trying to say things like, ‘You should go to Utah,' and all that. But I know Ohio State is going to be the best place for me and people are supportive about it. It's hard being away from your family and friends, but it's part of growing up. My friends are going to be hard to leave, but you always make new friends, so it will be all right. They have been supportive though," he added.
Part of fitting in had to do with the current players, and he got along with them.
"I didn't really get to talk to them too much since they were all doing summer school and some other things, but they all seemed like really nice, down-to-earth guys that I can get along with," Bell recalled of his visit. "They seemed a lot like me, so I think I'll be all right."
According to some, a pick-up game between Bell and the rest of the team members went pretty well. Bell was impressive, especially when facing Dials.
He put up a few of his patented baby hooks against Dials.
"That's one of my go-to moves in the post. I've worked a lot on that," Bell said. "It's something I've tried to patent. It's the way my dad taught it to me because it's hard to defend, so I've really kept working on it ever since. I'm still working, but it does go in most of the time."
But did he really take it to Dials during that game?
"I don't know about that. Some people said that, but Terence is a great player so it's cool to even be able to score on him," he said with a laugh.
Being away from home, Bell has tried to make himself a new home – with new expectations.
"Getting homesick and missing everybody is to be expected, but just from talking to everybody like Coach (Alan) Major, your basketball family becomes your family," Bell concluded. "The coaches are like your fathers and the players are like your brothers, but everyone is just going to be close, so it's like a home away from home."
By the time the season rolls around, Bell will no longer be that quiet, shy, unassuming figure laid back against the bleachers. From a fish out of water to what Ohio State hopes will be a big fish in a small pond. That pond just happens to be a little further from home.