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Eastern's Bell will become a playmaker

The senior can take it to the hoop, but the Vikings also need a setup man.

Devon Bell has been a slasher and a scorer for most of his basketball career.

This season, he'll also be a setup man.

That's the tricky combination, but the Eastern senior has the skill and the court sense to make it work, according to coach Joe Murphy.

"I want the ball in his hands," Murphy said of Bell, the leader of an Eastern team that will begin the season in the No. 3 spot in The Inquirer's Top 10.

The 6-foot-1 Bell averaged 14 points last season as Eastern went 24-4, won the Olympic Conference American Division, and reached the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals, losing to eventual state champion Atlantic City.

But that team lost its veteran ball handlers to graduation. So Bell will spend a lot of time this season at point guard.

"It's different, but I'm looking forward to it," Bell said. "I know I'm going to have to bring the ball up against pressure, try to get us in the offense."

Bell said he took two weeks off after the end of last season, then went back to work with a focus on improving his ballhandling and outside shot.

Bell is a natural scorer, a top athlete who can beat defenders with his quickness and get to the rim. He dropped 30 on Paul VI last season in a February battle of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the rankings.

Murphy still wants Bell to look to score, both in transition and off half-court sets. But Bell also will be charged with the responsibility of getting the Vikings into their offense - at least until some of the team's younger guards gain some experience - and finding talented big men such as senior forward Avery Walker and junior center Matt Klinewski.

"If Devon can create double-team situations, he can create a lot of opportunities for Avery and Matt," Murphy said. "Those guys can finish."

Bell knows it will be a bit of a balancing act. He has played a little bit of lead guard in AAU competition, but he's been a shooting guard and small forward for most of his career.

He likely will be a lead guard in college, so this season could be important for his future. But he said his biggest concern is making the most of his final year in a Vikings uniform.

"We're all looking forward to this season so much," Bell said. "We're so hungry for it, the chance to win the division and get back to states and maybe get another shot at Atlantic City."