NBA veteran Raja Bell becomes newest Patriot

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In wake of the disappointing district semifinal loss to Hallandale and an 11-11 record last season, the varsity boys basketball team will be working toward the title under new head coach, NBA veteran Raja Bell. Bell, who grew up in Miami and has garnered 13 years worth of experience in the NBA, will take over for former head coach, Fred Battle, to lead the Patriots next fall.

Since his childhood, Bell has always been around the game of basketball, developing a deep passion for the sport over time. “I fell in love with basketball at an early age,” he said. “My dad was a basketball coach; I guess you could say that I was a gym rat from an early age.”

Bell attended Miami Killian High for all four years of high school, where he starred on the basketball team as a dominant forward. After his junior year season, Bell attracted a few scholarship offers, such as one from Boston University (BU), but scouts began to take more notice when he took his game to the next level in his final year of high school.

“I was always motivated by the fact that no one ever considered me to be the best,” Bell said. “Knowing that there was always someone better than me kept me hungry.” This motivation helped him turn his senior year into his breakout year, and he began to receive offers from schools such as Yale and West Point. “I chose BU because of  its strong academic reputation, and they were one of the first teams to offer me a scholarship before I blew up my senior season,” he said. “My family were educators and put a lot of stick in academics.”

Though Bell’s first two seasons at BU seemed to be a success on paper, as he was awarded the NAC Rookie of the Year honors in 1995, he decided to transfer to Florida International University (FIU) after his sophomore season to be closer to his family and play for its “legendary” coach, Shakey Rodriguez. The change in scenery proved to be insignificant for Bell, who continued his outstanding play on the court. When it was all said and done, FIU decided to cement its star forward’s legacy by retiring his jersey, making him one of only three FIU men’s basketball players to have received such an honor to date.

Over the course of his four college years, Bell earned a total average of 14.8 points over 116 games on 43% shooting. Despite posting respectable numbers, Bell was not selected by an NBA team on draft day. “Not being drafted into the NBA was a heartbreaking experience,” he said. “It was also a necessary, humbling moment for me. It forced me to really self evaluate and ask myself whether I was willing to give 100 percent in an effort to chase my dream.”

Bell hits the triple from the corner in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Playoffs conference semifinals versus the Los Angeles Clippers to send the game into double overtime. Bell and the Phoenix Suns would go on to win the game and take a 3-2 series lead. (Photo/ESPN)

In August of 2000, Bell was finally given a chance. The 6-foot-5 forward was presented with an opportunity to make himself known when the San Antonio Spurs signed Bell as an undrafted free agent. However, the Spurs felt the match didn’t work out and decided to part ways with him before he could prove himself on the court.

Bell received a chance at redemption during the 2000-2001 season, though, when the Philadelphia 76ers signed him in April to beef up its roster before heading into the playoffs. Bell rode with the 76ers through the first few rounds of the playoffs, seeing few minutes, but making the most of his chances. “Before games I would try to visualize myself making big plays and having success,” Bell said. “Visualization and self-talk were huge tools for me.” It seemed as though Bell’s preparation process proved worthwhile when he produced a standout Game 7 performance in the Eastern Conference Finals. The team determined it saw enough potential in its undrafted forward to keep him around for a second season. Playing 74 games of the following season, Bell had an average of 3.4 points per game and signed with the Dallas Mavericks in 2002.

Bell’s breakout seasons followed when he signed with the Utah Jazz in 2003. The forward played the entire season and had career highs of 11.2 points and 2.9 boards at around 24 minutes per game. In the next phase of Bell’s basketball career, he started on the Phoenix Suns for three seasons during the 2005-2008 campaigns, thriving alongside Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash. He topped his previous career highs, producing 14.7 points through 79 games. Bell also knocked down 205 three-pointers to tie Gilbert Arenas for the most in the league.

Bell continued to bounce around the league in the last half of his career, playing roles for the Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors and returning to the Utah Jazz. Bell decided to hang up his jersey February 13, 2014, capping off his NBA career. Over the course of his career, he received both first and second NBA All-Defensive team honors.

He wasn’t ready to walk away from the game altogether, though. Bell joined the Cleveland Cavaliers front office in 2014 as its Director of Player Administration, working with some of the league’s greatest superstars including Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Lebron James. “I chose to join the Cavs front office because I was asked by their General Manager, David Griffin, to help him build a championship team,” Bell said. “Griffin was a good friend of mine and my general manager when I played in Phoenix. Opportunities like that don’t come around all the time, so I felt like I owed it to myself to give it a try.” After one season with the Cavs, Bell decided to resign in an effort to spend more time with his family.

Bell looks forward to putting his time in the NBA and his interactions with many NBA stars and respected coaches to good use as he looks to settle comfortably into his new position. “During my playing career I played for some of the best coaches ever, [such as] Larry Brown, Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan and Mike D’antoni,” he said. “I learned great lessons and strategies from all of them that will help me at Heritage. More importantly, they were all great leaders whose teams believed in them and always played hard for them. I also played with a lot of great players. I had to learn to play a role amongst all of that greatness. I will have a great staff joining me at Heritage, [and] we will all play our roles.”

Though the next basketball season appears far in the distance, with his experience, preparation, and coaching techniques, Bell already seems prepared to lead his new squad to the promised land. “My coaching style is tough but fair; you get what you earn,” he said. “Nothing was ever handed to me in my life and it always gave me a greater appreciation for what I was able to earn. Every athlete is motivated by something different. It’s a coach’s job to get to know his players and figure out just what that is. [Heritage] is a fantastic school that has enjoyed tons of success in both academics and athletics. I’m hoping that, with my staff, we can build a sustainable winning program that will represent the school with class, dignity and a lot of wins.”

Sammy Rosenthal is a junior at American Heritage School in Plantation Fla. and is entering his third year writing for the newsmagazine; his first year as the publication’s Sports Editor. Sammy takes pride in being a die-hard Miami Heat and Dolphins fan as well as dedicating his Sunday to watching football.

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