'Bounce-back' players finding a home with Cal State Stanislaus basketball programs

bvanderbeek@modbee.comOctober 17, 2013 

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Stanislaus State center Marcus Bell (24) spins around teammate Wes Bartole (23) for a layup during practice in Turlock on Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

ANDY ALFARO — aalfaro@modbee.com Buy Photo

— Almost all the skin Marcus Bell shows while wearing his basketball practice jersey is graced by tattoos.

There are initials, but most are elaborate works of ink art, each with its own story and meaning.

In many ways they could be a road map, showing all the places Bell has been between his 2009 graduation from Enochs High and now, as he enters his final year of college basketball eligibility back home at CSU Stanislaus.

"I could have come here, but I wanted to go to a juco to develop my game more and to see what happens," Bell said. "I wish I had come here first, but I'm here now."

That's a story more common than one would think. For every high school basketball player fortunate enough to jump right into a Division I scholarship program, there are many more who bounce between programs, searching for playing time and the right fit that never comes. Some are just searching for a home, and don't find it until they actually, literally, return home.

They're called bounce-backs, and the Stanislaus men's and women's teams both are welcoming home players who were local standouts in high school before leaving the area in search of basketball glory.

The Warrior women have added Jasmine Washington, who was a Central California Conference MVP at Pitman. She went to Cal State Los Angeles, where she was a redshirt, and played last season at Chabot College.

Bell is one of two new bounce-backs on the men's team. Joey Bennett of Los Banos, who played one season at Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, also has joined the Warriors.

"A lot of times young athletes have two obstacles to overcome," said Warrior women's coach Wayman Strickland. "Sometimes you want to leave home to try out new and shiny things, and grow up a little bit. But sometimes they go away and learn the grass is not always greener. We're fortunate to have local athletes come back and play in both the men's and women's programs."

Bell's roadmap is as winding as anyone's in recent memory. He started his journey at Lower Columbia College, a junior college in Longview, Wash., then came home after one year to attend Modesto Junior College, where he was a redshirt.

From there he went to another two-year school, Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College. All the time, Bell — listed at 6-foot, 9-inches and a generous 200 pounds his senior season at Enochs — was adding weight and skills, and was impressive enough to get the Division I offer he sought.

Last season at Idaho he saw action in 14 games, but never got off the bench after a Jan. 12 game in which he had three rebounds and four fouls in eight minutes. After an early February victory over San Jose State, Idaho coach Don Verlin (the twin brother of Pacific head coach Ron Verlin) announced Bell had decided to transfer.

He landed at Southwest Baptist University, a Division II program in Bolivar, Missouri, just north of Springfield in the southwest corner of the state. Bell was enrolled there for about six weeks before learning of a family illness back home.

"My dad's sick and he's not able to work or do what he otherwise would be able to do," Bell said. "I'm back home helping around the house and taking care of my little brothers and sisters. Me being here is all about my dad, really."

He withdrew from Southwest Baptist and enrolled at Stanislaus. He's academically eligible to play, but needs to secure an NCAA hardship waiver to be able to suit up for the Warriors.

"It's not an academic issue, it's an NCAA issue," said Warriors coach Larry Reynolds. "He transferred to two schools within a summer and you're only allowed to transfer once in a summer. We're working on a hardship case because of his family and we should know within a few weeks."

Should Bell be available to play, he immediately would become Stanislaus' best inside player, giving them a rebounding and scoring presence otherwise lacking. Now around 230 pounds, Bell still runs the floor very well and in a intrasquad scrimmage earlier this week dominated the boards.

"All I'm trying to do here is win," Bell said. "I didn't come to games here, but now I wish I had. I'm the five for now, which is my main position. I was playing the three at D1, but I'm better as the five because I can do things that most big men can't do."

Washington's journey didn't have quite as many stops. During her senior season at Pitman her family let it be known that she was aiming for a Division I program. That move caused Division II schools to shy away, and Washington landed late at Cal State L.A., was redshirted and left the program after a year.

Washington declined to talk about that experience, but Chabot was happy to get her. The 5-9 small forward started 28 games for the Gladiators, averaging 15.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

"I recruited Jasmine pretty hard when I was at Delta College and she decided to go to Cal State L.A.," Strickland said. "I maintained a good relationship, and I knew her junior college coach at Chabot. We were able to reconnect and she was willing to come home and play basketball."

So two years later, with stops in Los Angeles and Hayward, Washington has landed as a sophomore at the Division II school three country blocks from her high school, with the opportunity — like Bell — to be an impact player.

"I am excited about playing in front of my family and friends," Washington said. "I hope this year we turn the program around and give it a good name. I don't feel any pressure by coming home. I'm just excited to play."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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