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A learning experience

Villanova's James Bell had good times and bad at the under-19 world tourney.

Villanova's James Bell (right) played on the U.S. team at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships. (Barbara Johnston/AP file photo)
Villanova's James Bell (right) played on the U.S. team at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships. (Barbara Johnston/AP file photo)Read more

Villanova's James Bell knew basketball when he traveled to Latvia last month to play with Team USA in the under-19 world championships.

The food? Well, that was something else entirely.

"I tried stuff here and there, but I tried to keep it within what I knew," Bell said Friday. "If I didn't like it, I wouldn't be disrespectful about it, but everybody has their preference. They had something that was almost like meat loaf. I want to say it was chicken, but it didn't look like something I wanted to eat."

Food aside, Bell, who is entering his sophomore year, experienced the good and the bad in the world championships, which ran from June 30 to July 10. After a 5-0 start, the U.S. team lost back-to-back games and wound up finishing 7-2 and in fifth place.

The 6-foot-6 Bell started all nine games, but averaged the fewest minutes (16.1) among the starters. He had a tournament personal-best 16 points on July 4 against Canada, but completed the competition with averages of 3.8 points and 3.1 rebounds.

Bell called the coaches' decision to start him "a shock" and said there was nothing like hearing his name announced representing his country. He dealt with the minutes in the most upbeat way possible.

"You've just got to stay positive, keep your attitude the same," he said, adding that Villanova coach Jay Wright "tells us a lot to control what you can control. When I got on the court, I just tried to get the most out of my minutes. If I played 40, or if I played 10, or two, it's still going to be the same game.

"I think I learned a lot over there. If something doesn't go your way or isn't the best situation, what can we get out of it? You've got to keep a good attitude. It really affects everything. An experience like that, losing two games and getting fifth instead of the gold, that affects you. But you've got to just move on and know that you did everything you could."

Wright said Team USA coach Paul Hewitt, a former Villanova assistant, told him Bell made the team because "he did all the little things - defense, rebounding, hustle plays.

"He carved out a spot that way," Wright said. "It was a great opportunity for him to play with the best players of his age group from the United States against the best players in the world that are his age."

Surgeries to repair stress fractures in both tibias hampered the start of Bell's career last season with the Wildcats. He saw limited time in many of the 15 games in which he did participate, but he sparked 'Nova to a February win over Seton Hall by scoring 21 points.

"Freshman year was kind of a wash for him," Wright said. "So this was a great opportunity, a great experience for him. You can already tell how this helped him. His confidence level is up."

Such an experience combined with another European trip - this time with Villanova - starting Aug. 7 are helping Bell prepare for the new season.

While he admits "honestly, I'm not sure" what his role will be with the Wildcats this season, Bell said his approach won't be different from last year.

"I just tried to do what I had to do," he said. "If it was taking a charge, getting a rebound, making the right pass, playing good D, hitting the open shot . . . whatever it was, that was just what I had to do. If I played two minutes or if I played 10, I was going to have to play hard.

"Whatever my role would be this season, whether it be to score, or whether it be to be the best rebounder or the best defensive player, whatever Coach needs me to do, that's what I'm ready to do."