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.”
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: