"Have you seen him?" Flynn asked Thursday afternoon. "Is he really 5-3?"
Stephen F. Austin point guard
The smallest player in this year's NCAA tournament has made one of the biggest contributions to his team. If not for Bell, the 14th-seeded Lumberjacks might not have earned the first NCAA berth in the program's 84-year history. If not for the guy who barely reaches the armpit of Southland Conference Player of the Year
Two years ago, Lumberjacks coach
In the process of recruiting 6-5 guard
Few others could look past Bell's height. Though he starred in a quality program at DeSoto and ran in the same travel-ball circles as former Kansas star
For a moment, Bell considered quitting hoops. He had the grades to attend just about any college he wanted. "He was taking classes in 10th grade," Dyer said, "that I didn't take in college." When junior college coaches began calling, Wendy asked her son to reconsider. "Don't let your height or someone else tell you that you can't play the game that you love," Wendy told Eric. So she made him a deal. He would play for a junior college his freshman year. If he didn't like it, Wendy and her husband,
Wendy and Anthony had to swallow hard when they made that deal. The couple had always assumed Eric would be their only child, but a little less than five years ago, the Bells learned a new addition to the family was on the way. The expense of a new baby hit the family finances hard, but Wendy and Anthony were prepared to follow through with their promise.
Eric himself hears the talk before games. "I got some looks. I got some smirks. I got some whispers. I got some laughs," he said. "I pretty much got everything, but Division I athletes understand. They're competitive. No matter what size you are, they're coming for you."
Still, they can't always accept getting schooled by someone 63 inches tall. Last season, Bell had 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a 66-62 win over Oklahoma in Norman. As he shredded the Sooners -- all his points came in the second half -- he could hear Oklahoma coach
Bell won't crack the scoreboard -- he averages only 3.6 points -- but he might make an opposing point guard crack. "When he gets going, if you put the ball on the floor, it's gone," DeSoto coach Dyer said. "He's that quick." He also rarely falls for a fake. Coaches spend years trying to get their players to watch their man's belly-button, because no matter what the head, the arms or the legs do, the torso doesn't lie. Bell never had a problem with that concept. In a defensive crouch, he's usually at eye-level with his opponent's belly-button.
That's what worries Flynn, the Most Outstanding Player in last week's Big East tournament. Flynn must prepare to defend the ball as Bell darts in and out of his personal space. "You've really got to be careful," said the 6-foot Flynn, who estimates he hit 5-3 in sixth or seventh grade. "You might even have to turn your back to him and dribble because he's going to be all jittery and active." Orange assistant
As a 5-1 high school freshman, Bell dreamed of the growth spurt that would revolutionize his game. For a while, he stretched every day with the hope of triggering that spurt. "I kind of hoped it would come," he said. "But as we know now, it never came."
Instead, Bell turned his height into an advantage. On Friday, Bell will try to prove that even the tiniest underdog can slay a giant. "I know he gets frustrated because he's not their size, but Eric plays with his heart," Wendy Bell said. "In his heart, Eric thinks he's 7-feet tall."