From the time she first began taking basketball seriously the summer before her freshman year of high school, UNLV senior point guard Mia Bell has dealt with her fair share of adversity on and off the court.
On Bell’s third day of classes at Durango High, she received the devastating news that her mother, Yvette Bell, had died of complications from a stroke.
“That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life, the situation and timing of it all,” Bell said. “That situation helped make me stronger today. It’s made me appreciate everything in my life, the people I have in it.
“I try not to take anything for granted because it can all be gone without warning.”
Making her mother’s sudden death more difficult to deal with was the fact that Bell had spent the previous few months traveling with her to basketball camps and tournaments.
“At the time it was hard. We literally spent the entire summer together for basketball,” she said. “Every trip was just me and her. I got even closer to her than I was before.”
With her father living in Chicago — where Bell was born and grew up before moving to Las Vegas when she was in middle school — Mia moved in with her grandmother, Ella, for her first two years of high school and lived with her older brother, Seneca, her final two years.
“Her brother was such a big support for her and made sure she was being taken care of,” Lady Rebels coach Kathy Olivier said. “He was always at her high school games and came with her on her recruiting visits.
“He always pushed her. He would get on her, and it made her tough. I know she appreciates that and loved that in him.”
Bell’s brother and grandmother are expected to attend UNLV’s regular-season finale today against rival UNR at 5 p.m. at Cox Pavilion. A ceremony will take place before the game to honor Bell and fellow seniors Rmanii Haynes, Amanda Anderson and Friederike Moderegger. A team banquet will follow the game.
A former Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year at Durango — where she set a school record for points in a game, with 52, and averaged 26.5 points per game her senior year — Bell chose UNLV over New Mexico and Kansas State for the chance to play at home.
“I wanted my family to be able to watch me play, my brother especially,” she said. “I felt really connected with coach (Olivier) here and I wanted to do something special and be part of something more than myself.”
A four-year starter for the Lady Rebels (11-18, 8-9 Mountain West), Bell earned all-MW honors and was named to the all-MW defensive team as a junior, when she hit three game-winning shots and helped lead UNLV to a 22-10 record and WNIT berth.
But her college career didn’t play out as she hoped, largely because of two right knee surgeries — the first to repair her meniscus before her sophomore year and the second a microfracture procedure that sidelined her all of last season as a medical redshirt.
“For Mia, everything has always been a challenge. She always has to fight through all kinds of adversity,” Olivier said. “But what I love about Mia is she always comes up a fighter and she always comes out a winner. She doesn’t let anything bring her down.”
An aspiring coach who hopes to play professionally overseas next year, the 22-year-old Bell has tried to learn from adversity.
“As I’ve gotten older, I look at it as a lesson,” she said. “It challenges you as a person, and your character, to see how you’re going to come back from it. It either makes you stronger or you back down. I definitely feel, as a person, I’ve come back stronger than I was before.”
Despite Bell’s ongoing issues with her knee, the UNLV team captain and floor leader has managed to submit a solid season. She’s averaging 11.8 points and a team-leading 3.8 assists per game while shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line and 41 percent from 3-point range.
“If she wasn’t injured, she would be at an unbelievable level of basketball,” Olivier said. “Injuries have held her back, but she’s still had some really impressive numbers.”
Bell scored a season-high 25 points in Tuesday’s 64-63 loss to San Diego State, sinking a career-high six 3-pointers (in nine attempts), including a go-ahead bomb in the final minute.
True to her nature, Bell is battling hard until the end for the Lady Rebels, who have lost eight of their last 11 games but can salvage their season in the Mountain West Tournament, which starts Monday at the Thomas &Mack Center.
“We have another chance. That’s my focus. Don’t look back,” Bell said. “Regardless of our record, I feel we have a great team. Anyone can win it. We’re all ready for a war.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.