Former Boston College Hoop Star Awaits Sound Of Bell

By Michael Vega
Updated: July 27, 2006

BOSTON — Troy Bell says he didn’t find his way to the boxing ring as a way to work out his frustrations over his stalled professional basketball career.

The former Boston College star, who was released by the Memphis Grizzlies before the 2004-05 season, says he took up boxing in March as a creative way to stay in shape. He figured it was the best way to get a good workout without putting any unnecessary strain on his surgically repaired left knee.

“When BC was here for the NCAA Tournament [in the Minneapolis Regional], that’s when I first started to box,” said Bell, 25, this week from his home in Minneapolis. “I was telling Coach [Al] Skinner and all them about it and they were like, `Well, uh, I don’t know . . .’ All they remember is little pretty boy Troy.”

Slender, doe-eyed, and mild-mannered, Bell came to BC barely a wisp of a guard, but departed four years later as the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer and Big East Player of the Year.

Now, after spending some 3 1/2 months training in Brunette’s Gym in East St. Paul, under the watchful eye of Otis Gage, Bell has caught the boxing bug and transformed himself from Pretty Boy Troy into Palooka Troy, sans the boxer’s flattened nose.

“I got hit one time in the nose and I decided that I wasn’t going to get hit no more — and I didn’t,” Bell said, recalling his first sparring session in Brunette’s Gym with a more experienced fighter. “I hit him and he didn’t hit me anymore, because I was moving my head out of the way. Besides, I’ve got a little too much nose to be getting hit in the nose all the time.

“We’re trying to avoid all that. I don’t want to have that boxer’s nose. I want to have the boxing skills, minus the boxer’s nose.”

Bell, at 6 feet 1 inch and 185 pounds, relied on his quick hands and footwork when made his boxing debut Thursday night as part of an amateur card at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn. His fight experience limited to a handful of sparring sessions in the gym, Bell will take a quantum leap into the ring against an unknown 24-year-old, 176-pounder from Rochester, Minn., with a 1-0 amateur record.

“When you hear about somebody doing something that you can’t really picture them doing, you’ve got to kind of see it before it really makes sense to you,” Bell said, explaining the perplexed reaction of his former BC teammates about his decision to take up boxing. “I don’t think they were really surprised, they were just a little weirded out. Just like everybody else, they were like, `How did you get into it?’

“I thought I was doing it to just get into shape, but then it just became a lot of fun and I started getting really good at it, so it just took off from there. I’m still going to play basketball, too, for sure, but I’m going to box, too.”

Asked if he planned to pursue boxing as a professional, Bell said, “I’m thinking about taking it as far as I can go, but basketball is definitely first. It’s definitely first, but every time I’m not playing basketball, I am boxing.”

Bell says he sought out Gage to set up a training regimen for him with the express purpose of preparing him to make an NBA team’s training camp roster. Gage is a lifelong friend who had some 300 Golden Gloves fights and compiled a 14-0 pro record before a hand injury derailed his career.

As Bell became more involved in the boxing end of his training — hardening his abdomen to withstand body blows, working the speed bag to improve hand quickness, pounding the heavy bag to strengthen punching power — he became more intrigued with the notion of testing his skill in the ring.

“I’m the type of person, when I’m interested in something, I get really compulsive about it,” Bell said. “I was just doing it every day. I was shadow boxing in the mirror when I got home, I was going to the gym every day, and I was doing everything.”

He did everything short of running the steps of the Art Museum in Philadelphia, a la Rocky Balboa. Gage, however, did take Bell to an abandoned ski hill where he used to train and subjected him to intense training runs up the steep 500-yard, 75-degree incline.

“Everything we’ve done, really, is basically to incorporate a boxing workout for a basketball player, as far as the things we do outside of the gym,” Gage said. “Everything we’ve been doing in the gym is, basically, to prepare him for a rigorous NBA season.”

Bell was drafted by the Celtics with the 16th overall pick in 2003 and traded that night to the Grizzlies. After signing a three-year, $4 million deal with the Grizzlies, Bell was devastated when he was cut before the 2004-05 season. It ended an injury-plagued tenure in which he played six games as a rookie, scoring a total of 11 points in 34 minutes.

“I know it hurt him,” said Fred Bell, Troy’s father. “It embarrassed him more than anything when they let him go, and it made him angry. But he’s always been the type of person that nothing’s going to hold him back.”

Bell wound up playing two months in Spain with Real Madrid. He returned stateside, was signed by New Orleans for the start of the 2005 training camp, played in one exhibition game, and was cut. Now, he is hoping his boxing training will make him a contender for an opportunity in the NBA Development League, or, even better, another training camp invite.

“When I got released from Memphis, I wasn’t really upset about it. I just felt like I went to the wrong place,” Bell said. “I thought Boston would’ve been a way better fit. I’ve always been a point guard, but unless you’ve watched me a lot, you’d never really realize it because if you looked at the stat sheets, you’d say, `Oh, he plays the 2.’ But, back then at the time, Antoine [Walker] brought the ball up, Paul Pierce did a lot of posting up, and I could’ve been spotted up on the wing somewhere, just knocking down shots.

“[Marcus] Banks was, primarily, a defensive player, so he would’ve fit in really good with [then-Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown],” Bell added. “So I think the trade, on paper, it seemed like it was kind of good, but it ended up being all wrong.”

And so he turned to boxing as an outlet. After a month of rigorous, seven-day-a-week training, Bell approached Gage and asked him to set up a fight.

“His first sparring session he did extremely well, for a kid who had never been in the ring and had never put the gloves on,” Gage said. “I kind of raised an eyebrow for a second there, like, `Hmm, he might have something there.’ What impressed me more than anything, I would say, was in his second week of sparring.

“We’ve got a pretty talented kid here who’s probably 168 pounds and can punch. He won his first eight amateur fights, six of them by knockout, and Troy proceeded to bust him up, so he does have some skills.”

Said Bell, “A lot of people don’t realize that in boxing there’s a lot more thinking going on. You may hear an interview after the fight and think that the guy is not that intelligent, but if you’re a boxer — and you’re a good, successful boxer — then you’re either really, really tough or you’re an intelligent dude because it’s all chess.

“People don’t realize that you can throw a really good combination, miss, and get knocked out real easy,” he added. “So it’s about throwing an effective combination and not putting yourself in a compromising position. Other people don’t realize how hard it is. It’s only three-minute rounds, but when I first got in there, it was the hardest three minutes I’ve ever been involved in, because you’re throwing punches — and you’re trying to throw hard punches — and you’re also trying not to get hit.

“Fortunately, for me, I’m really fast and quick and I’ve got long arms.”

Those were his strong suits in college, as well, but Bell never used them to pummel an opponent.

Asked if there was one Big East opponent he would have loved to step into the ring with, Bell laughed and said, “Off the top of my head, I’d have to say no.”

Bell paused and reversed himself when he came up with a name.

“Well, maybe Linehan,” he said, jokingly referring to John Linehan , the pint-sized former Providence College defensive pest. “But, nah, Linehan’s a great guy. I’d never want to do that to Linehan, but he was pretty bothersome, like a little fly, just all over you. But Linehan’s really a good player, a good guy, and I never really thought about hitting him.”

Bell will finally get his chance to throw down tonight. He will finally get the chance to see if his boxing skills, his footwork, his jab, his uppercut, his hook, all measure up in the ring.

“I’m definitely blessed to have my health back and having my leg feeling the way it’s supposed to,” Bell said.

“A lot of times when somebody quits playing a sport — football or basketball — they don’t find anything active where they can be competitive and still enjoy themselves. I’m just happy that I was able to stumble into this. I would call it a healthy outlet, even though a lot of other people wouldn’t, but I just really enjoy it. I really like it.”

Fred Bell jokingly wondered if that would continue to be the case if his son experienced a couple of rough rounds. Maybe, just maybe, boxing would knock some sense into Troy.

“Maybe he’ll learn to love basketball a little more now, especially if he gets hit in the head a couple of times,” Fred said, roaring in laughter. “Basketball will start to look real good then.”