Ryan Greene/Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
- View the feature as it appeared in Sports Illustrated (.pdf)
- Read the story at SI Vault
- Bellfield ready to put ‘freshman wall’ behind him (3-11-2009)
- Late shot powers UNLV over No. 18 Louisville (1-1-2009)
- Bellfield putting confidence on display so far as a Rebel (12-30-2008)
- Bellfield settles in after unconventional path to UNLV (9-11-2008)
Whenever LaWanda Bellfield goes up or down the staircase in her home, she's reminded of her son Oscar's bold move.
On the wall along that staircase is a framed copy of a feature on her son, published in Sports Illustrated two years ago this week.
The headline — A Big-time Gamble — is in big, bold, black and blue type next to a full-page photo of Oscar, driving to the hoop in his Westchester High uniform.
Oscar's gamble — a decision to hold out until after his senior season at Westchester before hopefully signing with a big-time hoops program — brings her back to a stressful-yet-hopeful time.
On the final page of the story is a photo of her standing behind her son, which is symbolic of all she could do during the winter of 2007. Giving the appearance of a strong, silent pillar of support was necessary at the time, even if her mind was going a mile a minute.
"I was a little nervous," she said. "He was more confident, like it would happen. We should have done something earlier. It happened like it happened. I didn't want to show him I was anxious and nervous."
So, two years later, did Oscar's gamble pay off?
"Oh yeah, no doubt," the UNLV sophomore guard said. "It definitely worked out. I'm definitely glad I made this choice.
"Just being patient really paid off. Not giving up, worrying about my senior season and keeping playing. The opportunity came, and I took advantage of it."
Truth is, the offer from UNLV was the second that Lon Kruger and his staff made to Bellfield.
The first came following his sophomore year, but Bellfield was determined to test his value in the eyes of big-time Pac-10 suitors.
The interest came gradually, and during the most crucial period of a borderline elite Division-I prep prospect's high school career — the summer before his senior season — Bellfield hit a major road block, suffering a groin injury.
As he struggled on the summer prep circuit while dealing with the injury, the calls from the likes of Kansas, USC, Oregon and Boston College, among others, gradually slowed in frequency. Those recruiters had told him without telling him during the previous spring that if he kept up his high level of play, the official offers would follow.
Still, as his sloppy summer came to a close, instead of moping, Bellfield put all of his energy — and his future, too — into having a successful senior season.
"That's just kind of his nature," LaWanda said. "When he gets to show an expression, I'm elated, because he's finally showing some emotion. He's just like that."
He was rewarded for his persistence, as he led the Comets to a 29-5 mark, averaged 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals per game. He was first team all-city at a high school with name recognition on the West Coast.
Simultaneously, UNLV saw a wave of scholarships open up following the 2007-08 season, with Emanuel Adeife, Marcus Lawrence, Lamar Roberson and Troy Cage departing as underclassmen for various reasons.
"At a point, it was stressful," Bellfield admitted. "I just had to get healthy and keep playing and the opportunity would come."
No one was more pleased with the path Bellfield eventually chose than current UNLV freshman guard Justin Hawkins.
Hawkins and Bellfield, friends since the age of seven, were teammates for a year at Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif., before Bellfield transferred.
Hawkins chose the completely opposite process in terms of selecting a school.
He made a specific list of schools early on which he wanted to be recruited by, and when UNLV made its pitch, Hawkins committed before his junior season at Taft.
"Everyone was talking about how he's good, but he's not that good," Hawkins said, remembering watching by the wayside. "Everyone was really sleeping on him, but I knew since we were younger that he was going to be a really good player. Just waiting until the end of his senior year, looking at all of his options, I think that this was the best place for him."
Bellfield proved it almost immediately, starting at the point for UNLV in 21 of 32 games last season. He averaged 6.2 points per game and led the Rebels with 108 assists (3.2 per contest).
So far this season, he's averaging 9.5 points, 3.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds a game, including a 22-point explosion in last week's come-from-behind 88-75 victory at home over UNR.
This weekend, No. 16 Louisville comes to the Thomas & Mack Center. It's the same program which Bellfield helped the Rebels upset last season on New Year's Eve Day at Freedom Hall. Bellfield drove against then-freshman sensation Samardo Samuels and hit a tough leaner in the closing seconds to cap off a 56-55 upset.
Looking back on just how he landed at UNLV, Bellfield said he still believes there's no exact right or wrong way for prospects to go about finding the best fit. Instead, it is and always will be a case-by-case decision.
For some, it's grabbing the first sure thing. For others, it's gambling.
LaWanda on the other hand, says she'd advise parents in her situation to not take the risk unless it's absolutely necessary.
But both Bellfields have one thing in common in terms of philosophy — a belief in fate.
"I'm a firm believer in that if it's meant to be, it'll happen," LaWanda added. "He's happy, he's under coach (Lon) Kruger, he's learning, he's growing, he's getting confident.
"I think it paid off."