When we last checked in with Brian Bell, the world-class wheelchair basketball player was leading his team to a league title in Italy while his wife, Diane, a Forest Park native, adjusted to the culture shock of living in Milan. Brian has since qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. The U.S. squad punched their ticket to Rio by winning an international tournament in Toronto. Their first game will be on Sept. 8 against Brazil.
If you think that’s big news, Diane and Brian had their third child on Aug. 24. Myles Eric Bell came into the world and, thankfully, Brian was in town for the birth. Myles was welcomed by his two big sisters, Kaylin and Lia. Diane and the kids will remain with her parents in Forest Park, while Brian competes in Rio. In fact, the family will have to endure a five-month separation, before Diane and the kids re-unite with Brian in Italy.
Brian and his teammates have been training throughout the summer. They are a close-knit team, which beat their opponents by an average of 36 points in Toronto. They will be staying in the Olympic Village and had a meeting about what to expect. The Zika virus wasn’t considered a big risk but good hygiene will be important.
There are 12 players on this Dream Team and Brian will be in the starting five. The 27-year-old is 6-feet-1 and one of the sport’s premier players. He shoots 40% from the 3-point arc but also has a solid post-up game. He’s averaging 10-14 points per game on a U.S. squad that has very balanced scoring.
All the rules of able-bodied basketball apply to wheelchair basketball and Brian’s team will be using the same facilities as the NBA Olympians. Fouls are called for deliberately crashing into an opponent’s chair. Play stops when a player falls and Brian admits he falls often. As for dribbling, the player has to bounce the ball after every two pushes.
Bell lost his right leg to a freight train when he was 9, but he’s been working toward his Olympic moment ever since. He said the games will be televised on an NBC affiliate, with 66 hours of coverage. NBC came to Milan in November to conduct a photo shoot and interview with Brian.
He is excited about the Opening Ceremony and entering the stadium with his teammates. He said if they win the Gold medal, they might earn a visit to the White House. After the Games, he will return to Italy. His contract is up in May 2017 and he hopes to join a friend who’s playing for Germany. This will be much easier on the young family, as English is more common in that country.
Language was one of their concerns last year, when they sent their oldest, Kaylin, to pre-school in Milan. But Brian reported that she had a “blast.” Diane said Kaylin became fluent in Italian and was invited to lots of birthday parties. They recently enrolled Kaylin at Diane’s old school, Garfield.
Though Brian is still in his prime, he has post-career plans. He will return to school to finish the degree he started at the University of Illinois in kinesiology and recreational sports. He hopes to get into coaching, perhaps in strength and conditioning.
But for now his focus is on Rio and after that, “I’m looking ahead to making it to Japan in 2020.” Why not? A wheelchair player from the UK is heading to Rio to compete in his seventh Olympics!
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.