In most WNBA Draft classes, there’s a player or two who decides to forgo their remaining NCAA eligibility (typically as a sophomore or junior) and declare for the draft, shaking up the tops of draft boards because they’re just that talented. Recent examples include Satou Sabally (Oregon; 2020), Jackie Young (Notre Dame; 2019) and Azurá Stevens (UConn; 2018).
This year, it’s Kierstan Bell who is throwing her name into the fray. The Florida Gulf Coast University wing, who has dominated ASUN play since transferring from Ohio State in 2020, recently announced on her personal Facebook page that she’ll be entering the 2022 WNBA Draft. In doing so, Bell answered one big question about the upcoming draft while raising another: Just how high will Bell — both an early entry and a product of a mid-major school — be picked?
FGCU head coach Karl Smesko had envisioned Bell as a future WNBA draftee when she was in the transfer portal, telling The Undefeated that he and his staff saw her as a first-round pick just from watching film. Smesko has since revised his prediction; after coaching her for the past one-plus seasons, he now believes that Bell “could be right at the top of the first round.”
There’s a portion of women’s basketball media that agrees. 2022 mock drafts from ESPN and Bleacher Report project Bell getting selected at No. 6 and No. 4 overall, respectively. Incidentally, the Dallas Wings currently own both of those draft picks. But as with any player who announces their intent to leave school for the WNBA in the middle of an NCAA season, there will likely be a wider range of opinions on where Bell will go compared to seniors in the class.
Honors and statistics
A three-time Ms. Basketball honoree for the state of Ohio and the No. 8 overall recruit in the class of 2019 according to ESPN HoopGurlz, Bell began her collegiate career as a Buckeye, starting 10 of 30 games played in 2019-20 and earning Big Ten All-Freshman Team and Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors.
Since transferring to FGCU, Bell has put up some truly jaw-dropping statistics. As a sophomore, she averaged 24 points, 10.6 rebounds, two steals and 2.3 blocked shots per game, leading all of Division I in Player Efficiency Rating (44.5) and ranking second in win shares (10.4), according to Her Hoop Stats. Bell was unanimously named the ASUN Player of the Year and earned All-American Honorable Mentions from the WBCA, USBWA and Associated Press. Bell also earned Her Hoop Stats’ annual Becky Hammon Award, given by the database to the top mid-major player in the nation.
How she helps the Eagles
When analyzing anything related to FGCU women’s basketball, it’s important to consider how Smesko wants his team to play: freely, unselfishly and with a lot of 3-pointers attempted. Dating back to the 2009-10 season, FGCU has taken no fewer than 41 percent of its shots from 3-point distance in any one season, regularly ranking higher than just about any other Division I team in 3-point attempt rate (Her Hoop Stats).
The Eagles’ distinguished approach to team offense has complemented Bell’s individual game perfectly. Sure, she can shoot the long ball — Bell shot 34.7 percent on eight 3-point attempts per game last season — but her gifts are best displayed when she’s attacking the basket, both off the dribble and without the basketball. At 6-foot-1, Bell is both strong and agile, elevating over most defenders who challenge her with the ability to finish with either hand.
Playing within FGCU’s 3-point-heavy offense only emphasizes Bell’s talents. With no traditional center or post player on the floor for the Eagles — Bell is often the tallest player in Smesko’s lineups — opposing defenses have no choice but to honor the outside jump shot of every Eagle, giving Bell more than enough room to get to the hoop and finish. Bell attacks closeouts with ease. With a high-arcing floater and a deadly “Euro Step,” her offensive bag is a deep one, and with the threat of the 3-point shot ever-prevalent, FGCU simply has too much offense to defend against.
The result? Bell is shooting 68.6 percent at the rim and 74.1 percent on basket cuts (Synergy Sports).
Granted, much of this is coming in an offensive system that Bell couldn’t be a better fit in, and the level of competition she faces should also be considered — it’s not often that players from the ASUN are drafted to the WNBA, and Bell’s role would likely be much different had she decided to play in a conference with bigger, stronger teams. Both are factors that professional scouts must take into account.
Bell is a trend-bucking talent, though, and it’s not as if she doesn’t have the skill to play for a Power 5 school — far from it, as she was highly sought-after when she first decided to transfer from Ohio State. As it stands, no matter where Bell is drafted to play in the WNBA, she seems destined to become one of FGCU’s most successful professional alumni.
Watch her play
Bell missed over a month of action due to a partially torn meniscus, but she’s back sooner than expected. FGCU plays its final regular-season game against the Jacksonville University Dolphins on Saturday (ESPN+) and will then participate in the ASUN conference tournament from March 6-12.
Watch for Bell and FGCU to then make some noise in the upcoming 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. We don’t yet know where the Eagles will be seeded, but they should get a good amount of national exposure regardless and their dynamic offense will make them a must-watch team no matter who they end up facing on the big stage.
All statistics and team records for the 2021-22 NCAA season are current through Feb. 25, 2022.