One of the fun aspects of covering recruiting as intensely as we do at this site is that we typically have a good feel for most of the guys on this team before they even take part in their first practice. A perfect example of this would be the highly-touted Gary Bell Jr., or GBJ as we have come to know him. With GBJ being a priority recruit for the Zags since the beginning of his sophomore year in high school, he has been discussed ad nauseam on this site. Thanks to his considerable talent and tremendous production in high school, expectations are through the roof for the Kentridge product.
For those that haven't seen Bell play, or have never visited this site prior to this article, there are numerous reasons to think that GBJ is capable of making significant contributions this season. Bell Jr is a solid athlete with a diverse offensive game. He can shoot the ball with consistency from everywhere on the court and possesses the strength to finish at the rim against contact. GBJ has also shown the willingness to be an excellent defender, which he is capable of thanks to solid lateral quickness and a propensity to play physical. Unlike the rest of the incoming recruits, GBJ played against elite competition at Kentridge high school and with Seattle Rotary Select during the AAU season. Despite being the primary scoring threat for his high school team, Bell Jr. projects as a combo guard at this level, as he has the court vision to find open teammates and the ball-handling ability to create off the dribble.While there is a lot that GBJ can do on the court, there are still some adjustments that he will need to make in order to reach his potential. Although this isn't a groundbreaking observation, the main part of the game that Bell Jr. will need to adapt to is the physicality and quality of play at the Division I level. As I discussed earlier, Bell Jr. faced some great talent in both high school and the AAU level, but like all other Division I recruits, he has never had to deal with the grind that comes with playing 30-40 games against grown men. It will be very interesting to see how GBJ holds up through the non-conference schedule, which will see him play against physical programs like Michigan St. and Butler.
Along with the grind of the season, the only other potential factor that will slow down the freshman guard is the mental side of the game. How will he handle the struggles that he is bound to encounter as he adjusts to the speed and physical play of the Division I level? Will the coaching staff trust him enough to give him a spot in the starting lineup from day one? Both of those will be key factors into the development that we see from Bell Jr. over the course of the season. Although it's far from a bold prediction, I would be stunned if GBJ isn't in the starting lineup when the Zags take the court later this month. The two lineup options that would allow for this team to potentially become elite both include GBJ in the starting lineup (GBJ, Carter, Harris, Dower, Sacre...or....GBJ, Carter, Landry, Harris, Sacre). When this season is over in either March or April, I believe GBJ will have produced the best season from a freshman since Matt Bouldin back in '06.