Does he have a picture?
Of course he has a picture.
When you have shed nearly 100 pounds during a weight-loss journey that leaves you looking this good, before photos become a source of pride.
After a few swipes on his cell phone, Jimmy Bell Jr. is showing you someone who can’t possibly be him.
Bell is a 6-foot-11 physical specimen of a college basketball player who is going to play an important role for Travis Ford’s St. Louis University men’s basketball team as a 19-year-old freshman.
That kid on Bell’s cell phone screen is an overweight teenager whose 6-foot-8 frame is doing everything it can to stretch out 370 pounds.
That kid on the screen eats whole pizzas for dinner and an entire box of Frosted Flakes for breakfast.
That kid on the screen would need to lose weight to play college football, the sport he is receiving interest in from recruiters because he treats opposing linemen like they are trying to keep him from his pizza and Frosted Flakes.
“It was a lot of fat,” Bell said this week at Chaifetz Arena. “I was eating anything. It was crazy. Junk food. Me being a kid. My mom spoiling me.”
Coach Ford is excited about his freshmen. Yuri Collins sees passing lanes better than most first-year point guards. Terrence Hargrove Jr. has above-the-rim athleticism and the makings of a special defender. Gibson Jimerson is a threat to pull up – and make it – as soon as he crosses the half-court line. With Ford, upside is everywhere. He’s an optimist. But he made a point to specifically praise Bell.
Bell has been one of the biggest, best surprises of SLU’s summer workouts. His strength and physicality are ready for the Division I game right now. His footwork is better than Ford realized. It sounds like Bell might provide some significant help to starter Hasahn French in the frontcourt.
First, Bell had to prove he belonged on the court.
Before his 17th birthday, the native of Saginaw, Mich., tipped the scales at 370. He was always athletic, but always overweight. He could dunk, but just barely. He could toss opponents around like rag dolls on the football field, but became an easy mark for chop blocks that evened the score.
Football powerhouses like Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama were showing interest in him as early as eighth grade. Then one of those chop blocks aimed at Bell’s knee caused an injury that forced a decision. Bell said a doctor told him his knees might not withstand more blocks, that another dangerous one could end both basketball and football for him.
Bell liked football, the game he had the body for, but his love was basketball. He picked the hardwood. It was time for a hard change.
A move to Arizona to play prep school basketball became a catalyst.
“That’s where the whole weight loss journey began, right there,” Bell said.
During his time at Scottsdale’s Bella Vista Prep, Bell lived with a coach whose wife followed a vegan diet. Bell realized meat doesn’t have to be a part of every meal. He hiked desert trails, dropping weight as he walked. He substituted sugary drinks for water. He shed 30 pounds in a month.
Bell could feel the difference on fast breaks. For the first time in his life, he could catch and finish alley oops. Pounds disappeared. His physical strength stayed.
Those who tangle with Bell in the paint wind up feeling like those overpowered linemen. Ask SLU walk-on Jack Raboin, who caught an accidental concussion and chipped tooth from a Bell post move in a one-on-one drill earlier this summer.
“Gotta move out the way,” Bell said with a smile.
“He owns space, wherever he’s at,” SLU sports performance director Robb Hornett said. “If he wants to play professionally after he’s done here at SLU, he’s got the tools. He just needs to get down and manage his weight.”
Ford recruits athleticism, then trusts Hornett to take care of the rest. Bell was a curveball. Most incoming freshmen basketball players need to add weight, not shed it. Hornett once wondered how he would create extra conditioning workouts for Bell without making him feel punished. Turned out he didn’t need to.
“I’m a hard worker,” Bell said.
Don’t just take his word for it.
“It’s all him,” Hornett said. “Ever since day one, he’s been bought-in on the process. Usually, when you bring in big guys that are overweight, work ethic is the biggest thing you have to preach. I did not have to preach that to this kid.”
Bell weighed 318 pounds when he moved to SLU’s campus. Hornett set a goal of 280 for the start of the season. Bell is already down to 288. That’s more than 80 pounds down from his heaviest point.
Bell’s drive in workouts is unmatched. He has lost his (healthy) lunch during some. He has never missed a rep as a result.
He takes photos of every meal he eats, and sends them to Hornett for advice. Three pictures per day. The two communicate in emojis, swapping thumbs-up and flexed-biceps encouragement. When there’s a question, a conversation bubble interrupts the stream of photos. Bell should pull the croutons from the salad, right? Is today a good day for a rare cheat meal? Yes, he probably should add more vegetables to that plate.
“He’s learning how to eat for life,” Hornett said.
Bell likes the way he looks. He’s learned he can eat his aunt’s pasta while cutting back on the serving size. He’s fueled by a desire for a healthy lifestyle beyond basketball. Bell’s father, his namesake, died of a heart attack last year. The son honors his father with a photo on a necklace and a tattoo on a shoulder.
“He was my No. 1 supporter,” Bell said. “I try to make him proud, every day.”
Bell’s college basketball career is just beginning.
While watching it unfold at SLU, remember how far he’s come.