Nov. 21, 2009
by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
It wasn’t always that way and, ironically, became strongest after they came together with terrifying consequences.
“We were doing a drill, leading the team,” recalled Bell. “I was denying a pass, going at an up-court angle. We’re taught to meet the ball. So, while the ball’s coming from the top of the key and I’m denying from the wing, Zach is trying to come to the ball. I have my hand on the ball. I’m about to steal the ball. We’re just going for the ball.”
Seemingly innocuous contact followed as the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Peacock and the 6-6, 222-pound Bell bumped heads.
The resulting collision triggered a serious reaction in Bell that led to the discovery of spinal stenosis, a medical condition that led to surgery, and caused him to miss the entire 2008-09 season while putting a scare into the entire Tech basketball family.
“It was tough being that it did happen the way it did,” said Peacock, the senior forward who had six rebounds Friday in Tech’s 70-62 win over George Mason in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
“But at the same time, I know injuries come with sports and knowing that I wasn’t intentionally trying to do anything kind of made me get over it a little better.
“I believe that had a big role in bringing us closer together.”
Peacock is not in denial or looking to assuage guilt.
Bell, a graduate student who scored eight points with two steals against George Mason, never blamed his teammate.
“He definitely apologized,” said Bell. “I don’t even think he did anything. It was just a freak accident. So the blame and pointing fingers goes nowhere.
“Zach and I, it’s funny, when he first came, we didn’t get along that much,” he added. “But now, I feel as if we’re brothers. That was before the incident we had. Our relationship kept getting better and better.”
Coach Paul Hewitt, rarely one to be burdened by the pollyanna principle, sees the big picture in what happened and seems glad to have traded last year with Bell a walking time-bomb for this year with him healthy.
“Honestly, the way it worked out, it was a huge blessing that it happened because that was the first that we found out about the spinal stenosis,” said Hewitt. “Given what could have happened, it was a really minor collision. If it was more severe it could have been catastrophic.”
Bell said that he first noticed a potential problem back in his freshman year, when he took an incidental elbow on top of the head from Wake Forest center Eric Williams. But the tingling that went through his body as he ran down court eased, once he was able to come off the floor and sit down, thanks to a media timeout.
“After a couple of minutes everything was fine,” he said. “There’d been times in workouts when I’d jump up, hit a ball or make a play and come down on one leg and get a little jolt and I wouldn’t know what it is. Just different little instances like that that led up to the big one.”
The big one led to surgery, agonizing rehab and a seemingly endless wait just to get back on the floor. It’s been a life lesson in appreciation for Bell.
“Every game is a blessing,” he said. “I hope I can play this game the rest of my life. I’m just trying to make the most of what I have.”
Fast forward to Nov. 8, 2009. Tech is battling Indiana University of Pennsylvania in an exhibition game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
As IUP tries to break the Tech zone trap, a looping pass ends up in the hands of a Crimson Hawk, in the middle of the court.
Coming down the right side is Peacock. Coming up from the left is Bell. The two converge and meet at the ball. A couple of seconds later, the referee’s whistle signals a 10-second violation that gives Tech the ball.
Bell and Peacock give each other a brief acknowledgement then head up court to go on offense.
The turnover was all but forgotten in a game that would go to overtime.
The same will never be said for their appreciation of each other.