Gonzaga-bound point guard works hard on his game

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KENT — The guy with the golden shot got schooled.

A cherry-pick here, a blow-by basket there.

So Gary Bell went back to his classroom, the basketball court, and crammed even harder.

Today, Bell does most of the schooling after making himself into one of Washington’s best basketball players and a top-20 guard in the nation.

The Kentridge High School senior still remembers the lessons learned the summer before his junior year while playing on the Rotary Style AAU team that competed “up” against teams a year older. Guys like Joe Jackson, now the starting point guard at Memphis University, gave him fits defensively.

“Playing against the top talents in the nation, that’s when all your (weaknesses) get exposed,” Bell said. “You think you’re good at something until you play some of the top players. Then you learn, ‘Man, I’ve gotta work on this.’ “

As much as anything, Bell is known for his work ethic.

“He’s made himself into what he is today,” said Darryl Hennings, his longtime Rotary coach.

The ultracompetitive Bell doesn’t like anyone getting the best of him, no matter how highly regarded they are.

“I was like, ‘These guys aren’t doing it again. I’m going to show them I can compete with everybody,’ ” he said.

And he did. It didn’t stop there, either.

“He’s gotten better every year,” said Kentridge coach Dave Jamison.

Bell, a 6-foot-1 guard, was an immediate starter for the Chargers as a freshman and helped them place third in the Class 4A state tournament. He committed to Gonzaga as a junior and his lore continues to grow this season.

With Kentridge’s season on the line last Saturday against Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma, Bell went ballistic with 47 points, a school and district record.

Bellarmine coach Bernie Salazar had one word to describe it: “Wow.”

After losing to rival Kentwood in the opening round of district play — despite his 37 points — Bell sparked a pair of loser-out victories that assured the Chargers of a state berth. He had 24 against Bethel as his supporting cast contributed, then delivered his gem against Bellarmine.

“We got off to a little bit of a rough start,” Bell said. “I think we were down 10. I knew I couldn’t let this happen again. I had to kind of take over.”

After making back-to-back three-pointers, Bell said he did a “heat check” to see just how hot he was.

Sizzling, as it turned out.

His refuse-to-lose mind-set took over. It’s something Auburn coach Ryan Hansen has seen time and time again.

“He competes at both ends of the floor and sustains a great will to win,” Hansen said.

It’s one of the reasons Bell was named “Mr. Basketball” by the state coaches’ association just last week. He is considered a complete player, but is best known for his jumper.

“I can’t think of anything he cannot do,” Hennings said. “But the thing he really does well is shoot the ball. I don’t think anyone has a prettier shot than him besides (the NBA’s) Ray Allen.”

Some see Bell, who is averaging 28.8 points, as a shooting guard. But he prefers the point, which he expects to play at Gonzaga.

“I like to have the ball in my hands,” he said.

Bell held a basketball at an early age, thanks in part to his father, Gary Bell Sr., who had a promising career end with a knee injury in college. Gary Jr., of course, had a mini-hoop as a toddler and started playing organized basketball for his dad as a kindergartner.

He was already ahead of his competition by then. He would wait at half-court for his opponent, as required, then steal the ball for an easy layin. Too easy. Soon, his dad was telling him he had to pull up and shoot instead.

The jumper was born, then reared in area gyms as Gary Jr., tagged after his father around the pickup game circuit. When the adults took a breather, young Gary scrambled onto the court to shoot until they chased him off.

According to his father, Gary Jr., also excelled at football and showed even more promise on the gridiron as a quarterback and running back. He was voted MVP on every team he played for, but he dropped football after his freshman year to focus on a sport he could play year-round — basketball.

Bell wanted to get better and better. In seventh grade, he and Tony Wroten Jr. began working on plyometrics and agility at The Competitive Edge in Puyallup. Anything to get an edge on the court.

There are no days off. When Bell isn’t playing, he’s training. He and his father regularly run in the sand at Alki Beach, then run up never-ending stairs.

The family — including mother Vivian and sister Jada, a Kentridge freshman — is closely knit. They went out together for Valentine’s Day dinner. Jada says Gary makes her laugh and thinks he’s quiet at school, which Gary doesn’t quite agree with.

Yet while his game speaks volumes on the court, Bell rarely showboats.

“You’ll never see him try to bring attention to himself other than by his play,” Hennings said.

Jamsion calls him a fiery competitor with a quiet demeanor.

“There’s always a fire right below that surface,” he said. “He’s a pretty determined young man.”

Bell surpassed the 2,000-point mark last week and has more than 800 career rebounds.

Many expect him to break into Gonzaga’s starting lineup as a freshman and go on to play in the NBA.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him playing for pay, baring injury,” Hennings said.

But Bell has more important things on his mind right now, like leading the Chargers back to the Tacoma Dome and making a run at the state title.

“I always think about this being my senior year and trying to do it big,” he said.

Gary Bell doesn’t know any other way.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com