MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jimmy Bell Jr. isn’t the first basketball player to try to join one of Neal Brown’s football teams. The fifth-year Mountaineer head coach had a similar situation arise while he was an offensive coordinator at Troy.
Brown won’t reveal what Trojans basketball player it was who tried to join the Troy football program. He did say this, however:
“This one looks better, I will say that.”
Brown confirmed Thursday that Bell Jr. is currently practicing with the Mountaineer football team. The WVU men’s basketball center hasn’t played organized football since he was in high school, though he was receiving interest from college football programs before graduating from Arthur Hill High School in Michigan.
Bell, listed at 6-10, 285 pounds by the WVU men’s basketball program, completed his third full practice with the football team on Saturday. Brown stated that, on top of doing fundamental drills, Bell also participated in roughly 25 plays during the team’s live 11-on-11 portion of the day.
The big man’s football background is aiding Bell while he acclimates to WVU football.
“This isn’t like, hey, we’re rolling out there and playing football for the first time. You know, he’s played football,” said Brown. “So, he has some knowledge of playing the game, but we went two weeks and just went fundamentals, and we did some cardio things because it’s different.”
Bell has primarily repped on the offensive line, though tight end is also an option for the Saginaw, Michigan native. He will continue to practice with the team next week. West Virginia has practices planned for Tuesday and Thursday, and the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game is set for Saturday. Bell is expected to be active all three days.
While some may wonder what the possibilities of Bell making a change in sport this late in his collegiate career are, Brown is letting the “trial run,” as he called it, run its course.
“I’m trying to keep expectations within reason,” he said.
Brown noted there are similarities between what Bell is asked to do on the hardwood and what he’s being asked to do on the gridiron. Brown related guarding a pick-and-roll to working in pass protection as an offensive lineman, saying the name of the game is to stay in front of the smaller player.
“The biggest difference is we can use our hands in this game,” added Brown. “Coach [Matt] Moore tells him, I’ve heard him say it multiple times this week, you’re not fouling out — there’s no foul outs in this game, right?”
Bell’s coachability factor has left an impression on Brown. It’s something that Bob Huggins told the football head coach in their discussions about Bell’s football trial. Brown has also noticed how hard Bell works, something WVU hoops fans learned a lot about throughout this past season, especially after learning the weight he lost to get into playing shape.
Bell, Brown, and the football coaching staff will re-evaluate the situation after the spring game. Brown stated Bell has shown “considerable growth” since Tuesday.
“I think he’s had an open mind on this,” said Brown. “I went into it with zero expectations.”
Switching sports is just one option on the table for Bell. He also can opt-in for a fifth year of college basketball eligibility, and rejoin Huggins’ team. Bell is currently on scholarship with the men’s basketball team, though he could earn a football scholarship if he decides to switch sports.
Bell started all 34 games for Huggins and company this past season. He averaged 4.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He recorded a pair of double-doubles, and netted 10 or more points five times last season.