Oregon's Jordan Bell captains Sports Illustrated's 18th annual All-Glue Team

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Monday March 6th, 2017

When Jordan Bell was playing basketball at Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High School, his coach, Sharif Metoyer, used to get frustrated if he didn’t shoot enough. So one day in practice, Metoyer told the team that every time Bell touched the ball, he had to shoot it. If he didn’t, the whole team had to run sprints. “I remember him telling me he never had to tell a player to shoot the ball before,” Bell says.

A few weeks before the start of his freshman season at Oregon, Bell sized up the Ducks’ roster and gave himself a reality check. He knew the team would probably be led in scoring by senior guard Joe Young, who had averaged 19 points per game the previous season. The Ducks were also adding a high-scoring incoming freshman forward named Dillon Brooks. So Bell sent a text message to one of the assistant coaches imploring him to assign Bell to defend the best player on the opposing team every game. The coach texted back that if Bell proved himself able to do that, he would see plenty of floor time.

That’s exactly what happened, as Bell averaged about 24 minutes a game and set a single-season school record for blocks with 94. Young went on to lead the conference in scoring, and the Ducks won 26 games. Bell only took four shots per game and averaged 5.1 points. But he was happy. “I’d rather keep somebody who averages twenty points to zero than score twenty myself,” he says. “That feels better to me.”

Fast forward to last summer, when Bell was invited to participate in the LeBron James Skills Academy. All of the other campers talked of someday being a big star like LeBron. Bell wanted to be Tristan Thompson. “He doesn’t have his own shoe, but he’s still starting on a great team,” Bell says. “It seems everybody wants to score forty a game. I like focusing on rebounding and blocking shots. It’s like when you go to dinner and everybody’s fighting for the ham sandwich. I’m gonna fight for the turkey sandwich. I’m still gonna eat, though.”

It is an admirable approach to the game, but it comes with a price. Forget about not having his own shoe. Bell is a critical player on one of the nation's best teams, but he is not nearly a household name like Brooks, or the team's other shot-blocking maven, Chris Boucher. Guys like Jordan Bell often get underplayed and overlooked, but there is one place where he will not go hungry: He has been named captain of the 18th annual SI.com All-Glue Team.

Ever since we began this tradition two decades ago, we have sought to shine a light on unheralded players who, as the saying goes, make contributions that don’t show up in a box score. Many Glue Guys take to their role reluctantly, and only after realizing their dreams of being featured performer are not panning out. Bell, however, has always embraced the idea of being a role player on a winning team. When he got to Oregon, he didn't abandon his aspirations. He fulfilled them.

Bell might be Oregon’s fifth-leading scorer this season at 10.8 points per game, but the Ducks would not be 27-4 and ranked No. 5 in the AP poll without him. He is a leading candidate for Pac 12 and national defensive player of the year after finishing the regular season as the only player in the conference who is ranked in the top ten in steals (1.39 average) and blocks (2.06). He’s also tenth in rebounds at 7.9 per game.

Bell is that rare defender who moves well both laterally and vertically. That enables his coach, Dana Altman, to use him in every possible way. Bell is a superb help-side defender and rim protector, but he can also switch out on ball screens and check smaller guards. He can play one-on-one post defense, he can dive into passing lanes, and he is often the head of the Ducks’ full-court press. Much like Dennis Rodman had a knack for figuring where the ball was coming off the rim so he could get rebounds, Bell has an innate ability to anticipate the type of shot an opposing player is about to attempt, and then use his quick-twitch reflexes to swat it away. He is also ambidextrous, so he can block shots with either hand.

Offensively, Bell is enjoying his best season in Eugene, having raised his field goal percentage from 57.6% as a sophomore to 63% this year. He has also gone from making 51.9% from the foul line to 70.1%, which means Altman no longer has to sub him out at the end of close games. Bell even made three three-pointers after attempting just two (and missing both) during his first two seasons. This is why former USC coach Kevin O’Neill, who now works as an analyst for the Pac 12 network, believes  Bell should not only win defensive player of the year in the conference, but Most Improved as well.

“He has great energy, he’s tough as nails, and he’s as good a rim protector as there is in the country,” O’Neill says. “And he knows his role. I can guarantee you that he cares more about winning than individual stats, which is hard to find.”

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Indeed, one of the main reasons Bell chose to play for Oregon was because he was impressed with Altman’s high career win percentage. “My whole life, I’ve always been a winner,” he says. Bell is the youngest of five children, which means he was both babied by his mom and bullied by his older brothers. That’s how he became an eager-to-please teammate with a nasty competitive streak.

He mostly played football growing up, but when he grew tall, his coach pointed out to him that there no 6’ 8” wide receivers in the NFL. So Bell turned to basketball, eventually signing up to play AAU with the Compton Magic. Playing alongside natural scorers like Gabe York, who would go on to score more than 1,100 career points at Arizona, Bell decided he would be better served as the team's Glue Guy than trying to assert himself on offense. “I just figured those guys were better than me at scoring,” Bell says. “So my job was to get them ball.”

After his stellar freshman season, Bell was looking forward to developing his offensive game. However, he sustained a broken foot in May, which sidelined him for the entire summer and forced him to miss the first eight games of his sophomore season. As a sophomore, he was still a demon defensively—Bell set a new career blocks record at Oregon before the end of February – and he had 13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals in the Ducks’ Sweet Sixteen win over Duke last year. But it wasn't until last summer, when Bell spent went through daily 6 a.m. workouts with assistant Mike Mennenga, that he had the chance to devote long hours toward improving his  shooting. It has paid off as Bell is currently the school’s career leader in field goal percentage at 60.3%.

That stat indicates that Bell could score more points if he weren’t so deferential, but Altman is not pushing him in that direction. “I just want him to be comfortable,” Altman says. “He feels comfortable in his role right now.” He also feels a lot of pride on the defensive end. When Bell scored a career-high 26 points (on 11-of-12 shooting) in a win over Cal in January, he was even more gratified that he held Bears’ forward Ivan Rabb to four points on 2-of-10 shooting.

There will be some incentive for Bell to continue developing his offensive skills if he is going to have a productive NBA career, but his prowess in defense, rebounding and shot blocking will be valuable assets to any pro team. That dream can wait, however, as Bell gets ready to help the Ducks reach the Final Four. Needless to say, it won't matter to him how many headlines he gets. “As long as we’re winning, I’m good,” he says. “That’s all I care about, honestly.”

Aye aye, Captain.

Here are the remaining members of the 2017 SI.com All-Glue team, followed by a list of the previous 17 teams:

Landen Lucas, 6’10” senior forward, Kansas

This is Lucas’ second consecutive turn as a member of the All-Glue team, but he really had to earn his place this time. Eleven games into the season, the Jayhawks lost 7-foot freshman center Udoka Azubuike to a wrist injury. Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg missed four games due to suspensions and has not provided the impact that many expected him to have. That has left Lucas as the Jayhawks’ only serviceable big man in a lineup that features four dynamic perimeter scorers. His ability to hold down the fort—and the paint— is a major reason why Kansas won its 13th consecutive Big 12 title and is ranked No. 1 in the country.

Lucas is ranked fifth on his team in scoring at 7.7 points per game, and he is fourth in the conference in rebounding with an 8.2 average. He also ranks first in the league in two-point field goal percentage (63.9%) and he is third in free throw rate. His position can best be described as a “post occupier.” His ability to draw attention from opposing big men makes it more difficult for them to chase Kansas’ guards around the perimeter. Lucas is an expert screen setter and offensive rebounder, but when he gets those rebounds, he is far more likely to throw them out to an open teammate behind the three-point line than attempt to score himself.

Like Bell, Lucas’s embrace of the Glue Guy role dates back to his final year of high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where he played alongside elite prospects like Anthony Bennett, Myck Kabongo and Nigel Williams-Goss. “I needed to find my role on that team,” Lucas says. “That’s what first started that mindset of focusing on the dirty work. That’s how I was able to figure out how to play with good talent around me.”

Lucas was considering mostly Pac 12 schools when Kansas offered him a scholarship, yet he knew that the only reason the Jayhawks recruited him was because their main big man target, Kaleb Tarczewski, had opted for Arizona. Kansas coach Bill Self convinced Lucas to redshirt as a freshman so he could develop physically, and in the ensuing years Self recruited highly-rated post players like Cliff Alexander and Bragg, who were presumably going to park Lucas on the bench. Yet, midway through last season, Self inserted Lucas into the starting lineup because he asked the four other starters whom they most wanted to play with, and they all said Lucas. Real recognize Glue Guy.

Lucas concedes that there are times when he wishes he could be more of a scorer, but he is realistic to know what it takes for him to get his minutes. A guy doesn't become a two-time All Glue selection without understanding which statistic  matters most. “Sure, it's a struggle sometimes," Lucas says. "But winning makes up for everything.”

Dakota Mathias, 6' 4" junior guard, Purdue

By his own admission, Mathias was “the worst defender by far on the team” during his freshman season at Purdue. And why not? He was a huge scorer at Elida (Ohio) High School, having averaged 27.7 points during his four-year career, and the Boilermakers needed his scoring enough that he played 19 minutes per game as a freshman. But when his playing time dipped as a sophomore, Mathias realized he needed to make some changes. “If you’re going to play at Purdue,” he says, “you have to defend.”

After the season was over, Mathias met with Purdue coach Matt Painter in his office, where the coach gave him a long to-do list for the off-season, beginning with the need to improve his agility. Mathias spent the entire spring and summer working with the strength coach to get into better shape. He has also learned the value of using video to study the tendencies of players he’ll be guarding, a habit he picked up from former Purdue guard Raphael Davis, who in 2015 was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year as well as a member of SI.com's All-Glue team.

The work Mathias did on his body has paid off on the offensive end, where his jump shot no longer suffers from tired legs late in the game. He leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th nationally in three-point shooting at 48.1 percent. Mathias also leads Purdue in assists (3.6 average) and is fourth in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5-to-1).

Yet, Mathias’ most valuable contributions have come at the defensive end. He has gone from the worst defender on the team to the best defender in the league. Mathias routinely guards the opponent’s best perimeter player, locking up high scorers such as Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell (whom Mathias held to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting), Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (three points on 1-for-8), and Northwestern’s Vic Law (a total of five points on 2-for-20 shooting in the two meetings). His masterpiece came on Dec. 28, when he harassed Iowa’s Peter Jok, who came in leading the Big Ten in scoring, into shooting 1 for 7 from three-point range. (Jok finished with 13 points, but he needed 15 shots to do it.) Mathias credited that performance to having watched every one of Jok’s possessions over his Christmas break. 

As a Glue Guy, Mathias knows that it is his job to serve as a complement to sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, who is a candidate for national player of the year. Mathias' contributions are not as noticeable as the ones Swanigan makes, but the people who really count know exactly what he means to the Big Ten champs. “As a coach, you can’t have enough people you trust,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said in February. “The true testament to a good player is when a coach can’t take you out. You don’t feel right taking them out. Dakota is one of those players.”

Ben Moore, 6' 8" senior forward, SMU

Former SMU coach Larry Brown and his assistants first spotted Moore when they were recruiting his Chicago-based AAU teammate, Cliff Alexander. The Moore they saw, the Moore they liked. “He was one of those long, athletic guys who could handle the ball,” says Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich, who took over as head coach after Brown retired last summer. “He was a little under-assuming, he never tried to be ‘the guy,’ but he had an all-around game, and he played to win.”

It wasn’t until Moore’s freshman season at SMU started that Jankovich realized just how poised and intelligent he was on the court. Specifically, Jankovich cites the third game that season, when the Mustangs lost, 89–78, at Arkansas. Not only did Moore surprise the coaches by shooting 8-for-10 from the floor and scoring 19 points, but he also repeatedly, and successfully, brought the ball up the court against the Razorbacks’ vaunted full-court pressure. That combination of cool demeanor, high IQ and diverse skill set has made Moore a valuable asset to the Mustangs these last four years.

This season, Moore has been a Glue Guy among Glue Guys. The Mustangs have an unusual lineup that features five starters who are all between 6’ 6” and 6’ 9”. Their motion offense requires versatility and dependable decision making. Moore is often called upon to handle the point guard duties when the team’s regular point, sophomore Shake Milton, is either out of the game or off the ball. On defense, Moore ostensibly plays the center position as well, but he frequently switches out on ball screens, and Jankovich is content to let him check much smaller guards. This makes Moore, in Jankovich’s words, “a one through five guy on both ends of the floor.” That’s an unusual combination, to say the least.

Moore also ranks fourth in the AAC in rebounds at 8.2 per game. He may not choose to score a lot, but he has proven he can if the team needs him to—such as his nine points and eight rebounds in the second half to help SMU erase a 15-point halftime deficit against Tulane. Moore is averaging about the same number of points as he did last season (11.8), but his field goal percentage has increased from 54.9% to 57.5%. “He’s the kind of player who will wait to see if he needs to score,” Jankovich says. “When I’m watching film of our games, I’ll actually laugh sometimes because you can see how far ahead of the action his mind is working. He does a lot of little subtle things that you miss during the live game.”

With the NCAA tournament approaching, Moore hopes his career will end better than the last two seasons did. When Moore was a sophomore, the Mustangs were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament courtesy of a controversial goaltending call against UCLA. Last year, the Mustangs were prohibited from playing in the postseason due to NCAA violations. He may be a little unassuming, but he is a big reason why SMU is poised for a deep tournament run. 

Nathan Adrian, 6' 9" senior forward, West Virginia

Adrian was no one’s version of a five-star recruit coming out of Morganton (W.Va.) High School. Yet, he was barely good enough to do what no Morgantown native had been able to do since 1949—earn a scholarship to play for the hometown Mountaineers. Those Mountaineers, of course, are coached by another Morgantown native and WVU alum, Bob Huggins. (Huggins was born in Morgantown but played high school ball in Ohio.) Alas, Adrian found out the hard way that being a local hero can have downsides, but now that he is a senior, he has established himself as the face of the program. He even has the long hair and scraggly beard to play the part.

Mostly, though, Adrian has a sixth sense about how to play defense. That makes him an invaluable asset at the top of Huggins’ full-court press, which is an unusual place for a 6’ 9”, 235-pound power forward to find himself on game nights. “No matter where the ball is in the press, he is usually able to get to the right spot where the ball is going to end up. It’s uncanny,” says ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who specializes in covering the Big 12. “He’s more athletic than you think, but he does it more with guile and IQ than raw athleticism. He’s like a great middle linebacker in a great defense. He plays with so much heart and soul, and then being from Morgantown, he really embodies Bob Huggins’ ‘Press Virginia’ system.”

Adrian played pretty well as a freshman, but he was mostly a catch-and-shoot stretch four who made 35.8% of his three-point attempts and averaged 5.4 points per game. As a sophomore, however, he developed a painful cyst in his right wrist. He tried to keep the injury quiet, but it took a drastic toll on his three-point shooting, which plummeted to 17.7%. The locals who had once lionized Adrian turned on him so badly that the school’s athletic department produced a video in which he read “mean Tweets” to help make light of the situation.

The injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced Adrian to develop other parts of his game. In late January of his junior season, Adrian was moved into the starting lineup because one of the starting forwards was injured. The fans booed Adrian when his name was announced, but they cheered him as soon as he made a three-pointer and layup to open the game, sending the Mountaineers to an easy home win over Kansas State. Afterward, Huggins said it was Adrian’s best game in college because of the way he passed and played defense. “He made some shots, but I think his floor game was very good,” Huggins said.

Adrian has continued to build upon those skills and, despite a quiet personality, emerge as a vocal (and sometimes combative) leader on the court. He can often be heard barking out orders to his teammates from his position on top of the press. He is averaging career bests in scoring (10.3 ppg), rebounds (6.1) and assists (3.0), and he is converting a career-best 74% of his free throws. He has also earned Big 12 All-Academic honors in all three seasons. After he had a career-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds, three steals and two assists in a 21-point win over then-No. 1 Baylor, Mountaineers’ junior guard Jevon Carter said Adrian was the unquestioned team leader. “He can do whatever they ask him to do,” Carter said. “He can shoot, pass, rebound and he can make plays for other people. He’s our go-to guy.”

Whether he’s playing like a Go-To Guy or a Glue Guy, Adrian will always be Morgantown’s Home Town Guy. As his head coach can attest, that is a special legacy for a young man to carry forward. “You can’t say enough about what Nate has been,” Huggins said late last week. “He understands what it means to the people in West Virginia and what it means to the kids growing up here. He has been a great ambassador for West Virginia basketball.”

Isaiah Briscoe, 6’ 3” sophomore guard, Kentucky

Life can be rather uneasy when you play at a high-profile program and are deficient at the most visible part of the game. So it speaks volumes about Briscoe’s Glue Guydom that he has been a two-year starter at Kentucky despite being a career 22% three-point shooter and a 56% foul shooter. Briscoe’s position is technically shooting guard, but lately he has been more of a non-shooting guard, failing to reach double digits in his last five games and missing his last 11 straight three-point attempts.

Yet, back in January, Mississippi State coach Ben Howland called Briscoe the “heart and soul” of the Wildcats a couple of days before his Bulldogs lost at home to UK by seven points. “If you asked me who am I most worried about, I’m worried about him,” Howland said. “They need a tough basket, he’s the guy that delivers. He’s just a winner. He makes everybody else better around him.”

From a basketball standpoint, Briscoe’s contributions range from rugged on-ball defense to tenacious board work. (He has averaged 5.4 boards per game at Kentucky, an impressive stat for a guard.) This season, Briscoe’s leadership has been critical while he has been starting alongside four freshmen. “I’ve been a leader for as long as I can remember. It’s nothing new to me,” he says. “I look at my job as the guy who keeps everything together, makes sure everybody is on the same page. Me and Coach [John Calipari] are always talking during the game.”

At most schools, a sophomore is still considered an unpolished greenhorn, but at One-and-Done U, he is a sage old man. Briscoe provides wisdom as well as toughness. “He always knows the answer,” Kentucky’s stud freshman guard Malik Monk said in January. “He has seen everything we haven’t seen. He has been through big games and big road games. He just makes us way more comfortable, knowing we’ll be all right.”

Unlike most Glue Guys, Briscoe was a much-ballyhooed recruit. He graduated as the all-time leading scorer at Roselle (N.J.) Catholic High School, and he was selected as a McDonald’s All-American as a senior. At Kentucky, however there are plenty of other guys with those credentials. That, combined with Briscoe's shooting woes, have forced him to find other ways to impact winning. If the Wildcats are going to reach the Final Four in Phoenix, it won’t be because Briscoe made a bunch of outside shots. It will be because on a team of young stars, there was one grizzled old sophomore who managed to keep everything together.

Honorable mentions: Kadeem Allen, Arizona; Tum Tum Nairn, Michigan State; Kyle Davis, Dayton; Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson, Duke; Theo Pinson, North Carolina; Mikal Bridges, Villanova; Vince Edwards, Purdue; Gary Clark, Cincinnati; Terrence Mann, Florida State; Sanjay Lumpkin, Northwestern

Past All-Glue teams

2016: Matt Costello, Michigan State (capt.); James Farr, Xavier; Landen Lucas, Kansas; Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona; Raphael Davis, Purdue; Marshall Plumlee, Duke;

2015: Rico Gathers, Baylor (capt.); Alex Barlow, Butler; Josh Gasser, Wisconsin; Dustin Hogue, Iowa State; Tekele Cotton, Wichita State; Raphael Davis, Purdue; Briante Weber, VCU (Honorary member)

2014: Patric Young, Florida (capt.); Tekele Cotton, Wichita State; Josh Gasser, Wisconsin; Justin Jackson, Cincinnati; T.J. McConnell, Arizona; Akil Mitchell, Virginia

2013: Mike Hart, Gonzaga (capt.); Kyle Anderson, UCLA; Melvin Ejim, Iowa State; Roosevelt Jones, Butler; Nate Lubick, Georgetown; Travis Releford, Kansas

2012: Darius Miller, Kentucky (capt.); Quincy Acy, Baylor; Travis Releford, Kansas; Toure' Murry, Wichita State; Anthony Marshall, UNLV; Jorge Gutierrez, Cal; Zack Novak, Michigan

2011: Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, Notre Dame (co-captains); Terrell Bell, Virginia Tech; Brady Morningstar, Kansas; Draymond Green, Michigan State; Zack Novak, Michigan

2010: David Lighty, Ohio State (captain); Chris Kramer, Purdue; Reggie Redding, Villanova; Willie Veasley, Butler; Rick Jackson, Syracuse.

2009: J.T. Tiller, Missouri (captain); Taylor Griffin, Oklahoma; Jermaine Dixon, Pitt; Garrett Temple, LSU; Travis Walton, Michigan State.

2008: Stanley Burrell, Xavier (captain); Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; Dave Pendergraft, Gonzaga; Derrick Jasper, Kentucky; Justin Mason, Texas; Wisconsin (glue team).

2007: Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee (captain); Kyle Shiloh, Nevada; Dominique Kirk, Texas A&M; Othello Hunter, Ohio State; Marcus Landry, Wisconsin.

2006: Sean Dockery, Duke (captain); Dane Bradshaw, Tennessee; Mike Hall, George Washington; Sean Marshall, Boston College; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA; Kenton Paulino, Texas.

2005: Jamaal Levy, Wake Forest (captain); Louis Hinnant, Boston College; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Christian Moody, Kansas; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Roger Powell, Illinois.

2004: Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh (captain); Tyrone Barley, Saint Joseph's; Erroll Knight, Gonzaga; Roger Powell, Illinois; Nick Robinson, Stanford; Robert Tomaszek, Texas Tech.

2003: Rick Anderson, Arizona (captain); Jaron Brown, Pittsburgh; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Chuck Hayes, Kentucky; Robert Johnson, Oregon; Ellis Myles, Louisville; Tony Robertson, Connecticut.

2002: Gerald Fitch, Kentucky (captain); Dahntay Jones, Duke; Billy Knight, UCLA; Byron Mouton, Maryland; Jarrad Odle, Indiana; Antoine Pettway, Alabama.

2001: Sergio McClain, Illinois (captain); Nate James, Duke; Luke Walton, Arizona; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Marcus Toney-El, Seton Hall; Jason Capel, North Carolina.

2000: Lavor Postell, St. John's (captain); Alex Jensen, Utah; Nate James, Duke; Brian Beshara, LSU; Stevie Johnson, Iowa State.

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