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Osaka’s Bell takes pride in winning mindset, work ethic

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Japan Times features periodic interviews with players in the bj-league. D’Andre Bell of the Osaka Evessa is the subject of this week’s profile.

Position: Guard
Age: 26
Ht: 198 cm
Wt: 98 kg
Hometown: Los Angeles
College: Georgia Tech

Noteworthy: Bell attended the same institute of higher learning as Ryukyu Golden Kings standout Anthony McHenry, following in his footsteps. McHenry starred for the Yellow Jackets from 2001-05; Bell went to the school from 2005-10. … Bell, while playing at Palisades Charter High School, received honorable mention All-American accolades from Street & Smith’s magazine. … As a college senior, he was described this way on the Georgia Tech athletics website: “Smooth mid-range jump shot and good defensive skills … More effective on the wing, but answered the call to play the point for Tech on occasion during each of his first two seasons.”

Bell suited up for the Chiba Jets last season during the team’s second and final bj-league campaign. This season, he joined Osaka after the All-Star break and made his Evessa debut on Feb. 1, finishing with 18 points, six assists, five steals and a block. He’s averaging a team-high 14.9 points and nearly 4.0 rebounds in 12 games. Bell, a southpaw shooter, is shooting at a 48.3 percent clip from inside the arc and 82.6 percent at the free-throw line. What’s more, he gets to the charity stripe with regularity, having taken 69 foul shots in a dozen games. Osaka (17-23 overall) is 6-6 since Bell joined the team, sitting in sixth place in the 10-team Western Conference.

As a college student-athlete, Bell endured a major medical crisis: he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which required surgery. He was sidelined for the 2008-09 season. He returned to the Yellow Jackets as a fifth-year senior and was a co-captain.
The Atlanta Coast Conference gave him the Bob Bradley Spirit and Courage Award, and he was a finalist for the V Foundation Comeback Award. .. Bell has played for Bakersfield and Austin in the NBA Development League.

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Are you pleased with your overall productivity, including scoring in your first 10 games with the Evessa? And do you feel you have fit in well with your Evessa teammates and with head coach Shunsuke Todo’s system since you returned to Japan in late January?

Am I pleased with my productivity? Not entirely, but I am pleased that I am meeting my coaches’ requests. I was brought in to score, but given all the changes and recovered injuries, scoring has been asked not to be my main focus. We have many guys who can give us good numbers any night, so coach has me more as a safety net in regards to scoring. My primary focus has been leadership and helping change our mentality as a team into that of a winning one. Attitude is everything as we battle for a solidified playoff berth. As a man thinks, so is he.

In basic terms, what has Todo’s message been to you in terms of the role he wants you to play for Osaka?

As touched on in the last question, I am to lead verbally and by example, offer a new environment and attitude. We have the talent and we are currently mastering the mindset necessary to achieve our goal of a championship. In short, I am to help redeem the great Osaka organization and tradition by my work on and off the court.

Before arriving in Osaka, were you primarily working out and getting ready to return overseas to play ball? Or did you seriously consider other offers with teams in different leagues and/or countries?

I always do my best to stay in shape and ready for any opportunity, it is my duty as an athlete and role model. I was training hard for the opportunities that arose. I considered other teams in Japan, other countries and even home in the D-League (NBA Development League). I remained home due to personal matters I had to tend to.

What were your fondest memories of playing for the Chiba Jets last season? And do you feel your steady play for Chiba, including more than 14.0 points per game, helped attract attention from Osaka’s front office?

Fondest memories would be the nine-game win streak (last January and February) and how much of a family we were as a team. Yes, I believe my play for Chiba was a magnet for the Osaka office as Coach Todo attended some of our practices. Todo told me that viewing my practices and reports from the Japanese players intrigued him significantly on my behalf.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is just around the corner. Which schools are your Final Four picks now — well, before the field is announced?

I have not been following, but gooooooo Jackets … that’s all I know. Georgia Tech for life.

Currently sitting in sixth place, the Evessa can rise or fall in the standings over the next several weeks. So what are keys for the team to solidify its playoff position?

Keys are consistency and mastering the champion’s mindset. As of late, in game one we play average and in game two we play like the champions we are capable of being. We need to find a way to play the same way no matter the conditions.

At Georgia Tech, you followed in the footsteps of Ryukyu star Anthony McHenry and have seen and heard about his sustained success in the bj-league. What do you think are the physical, mental and intangible qualities that have guided McHenry to impressive accolades as a pro player?

His size and talent. McHenry used to be a 6-8 (203-cm) point guard, so his versatility is like none other. He has a great IQ and he comes from a winning background. His accolades with Georgia Tech lets all know that he knows what it takes to win.

After undergoing surgery for spinal stenosis while at Georgia Tech, did your spinal cord feel stronger and pain-free, allowing you to reach a higher level of athletic performance, including a chance to play pro ball?

No, in actuality I should never have played my senior year because I was not ready to play mentally or physically, yet I found a way to make it happen. I didn’t fully recover until my first season in Japan. While my (spinal) cord was pain-free, different muscles in my neck and back gave me trouble for a while, thus limiting my productivity.

While in the NBA D-League in 2010-12, you saw many players get called up, promoted to the NBA and also demoted, or going back and forth. How did that time strengthen your resolve to play in the NBA some day? (I ask after seeing your Facebook post that shows an NBA logo and the following message: “One day…somehow some way. I’m not there yet but I am closer then I was yesterday. Pray&Grind.”)

Before the spinal stenosis incident, I had set myself up well for an opportunity on the highest level. I refuse to not believe I can make it. I will persevere to the NBA is all that’s on my mind and worst-case scenario much money overseas.

In your high school career in Los Angeles, which current bj-league players and NBA players do you recall competing against? Who made the biggest impression on you then for their skills?

Ruben Boykin, Jamal Boykin, Josh Shipp, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Gabe Pruitt, Darren Collison, Amir Johnson, Darrell Wright, Russell Westbrook to name a few. At the time, Gabe Pruitt was head and shoulders above all.

Off the court in Japan, what do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?

I study the Bible, Skype family, and enjoy Japanese culture. So far I’ve been to Osaka Castle.

Editor’s note: Archived stories in this long-running interview series can be found here: www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/column/one-on-one-with/