Top ‘Dog: McKinley’s Bell repeats as Ms. Basketball
By Joe Scalzo, Canton Repository sports writer
On Jan. 24, minutes before the biggest regular season basketball game of her career, Canton McKinley junior Kierstan Bell was standing for the national anthem when she started hearing whispers behind her.
“Everyone behind me was like, ‘LeBron’s here, LeBron’s here’” Bell said. “I was like, ‘You’re joking.’ And they said, ‘No, he’s really here.’
“I wasn’t trying to be rude and just look, so I turned my head a little bit and said, ‘I don’t see him.’ They said, ‘He’s in camouflage.’”
That’s when she spotted him, roughly 100 feet away from her in the top left corner of the Massillon Jackson High School bleachers. Bell was much easier to find that night, pouring in 38 points to go with eight rebounds and five steals in front of a crowd of 1,500 fans as the Bulldogs won 69-57 to clinch the Federal League title, avenge their only regular season loss and win Bell’s final game against fellow Stark County standout Taylor Mikesell.
LeBron, meet “She-Bron.”
“It was very exciting, but I told my team that we have to go out there and get the ‘dub,’” Bell said. “With one minute left, everyone was running and walking out to get their picture with him, but I didn’t let it get to me, even though I wanted to so bad.
“That was the highlight of the year, for sure.”
On Wednesday, she got a better one.
A year after becoming the first sophomore to win Ohio’s Ms. Basketball, Bell became just the fifth girl to repeat, joining Garfield Heights Trinity’s Vonda Ward (1990-91) and Semeka Randall (1996-97), Mason’s Michelle Munoz (2000-01) and McKinley’s Ameryst Alston (2011-12).
She’s also on track to match James, the only player in Ohio history to win Mr. Basketball three times, which he did from 2001-03 at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
“For her to be in the same breath as Ameryst, Michelle Munoz, Semeka Randall and Vonda Ward … I mean, those are legends of the game,” said Bulldogs coach Pam Davis, who also coached Alston. “They played at such an elite, high level for a lot of years. I think that’s legendary. I think her name will forever be in the record books with those types of athletes.”
Bell, a 6-foot-1 junior, averaged 33.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.0 steals, 3.9 assists and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor for the Pups (23-2), who lost to Wadsworth in the Division I district final. She set McKinley records for points in a game (53), season (833) and career (2,104). Her 833 points also are a county record, while her career point total ranks No. 2 to Mikesell, a Maryland recruit who finished her career with 2,175.
“There was a lot of pressure this year,” Bell said. “This (winning twice) would mean a lot. It means God gave me a gift and allowed me to perform the way I do.
“But it’s not just about me. It’s about God and family and community and helping kids. We had a little girl who came to practices all the time and they were like, ‘Who’s your favorite basketball player?’ She said me and it was so cute. It’s amazing how the things you do can impact other people’s lives.”
Bell now has the chance to impact someone else’s program. She’s ranked No. 4 nationally in her class by ESPN — the highest of any girl in Ohio — and already has more than 30 Division I offers, including Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and UCLA. She plans to make her decision after her AAU season ends this spring.
Regardless of her college choice, Bell wants to make at least one more trip to Columbus — for next year’s girls state tournament. After losing to eventual champion Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame in last year’s state semifinals, this year’s early exit still stings.
“We took our loss, but next year we’re going to come back and fight harder than ever,” Bell said. “Everyone thought we should have gotten it (a championship) this year, but things happen and you can only learn from it and get better. You’re going to take losses in life. You just have to bounce back.”
McKinley’s Kierstan Bell — scoring against Hathaway Brown at Canton Memorial Field House on Feb. 10, 2018 — is Ohio Ms. Basketball for the second straight year. (Canton Repository / Ray Stewart)