KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ronnie Bell spent at least part of his time off thinking about his future.
On the day before his return to basketball, Park Hill’s star senior announced his decommitment from Missouri State to pursue a future in football. The move came just days after Bell earned the Simone Award — annually given to the best high school football player in the Kansas City metro area.
Bell’s season debut for Park Hill resulted in an adventurous 21 points during a disappointing 70-48 blowout loss to Lee’s Summit on Friday, Dec. 15 at Park Hill High School. The next day, Bell announced he had received a football scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.
By Monday afternoon, Bell had committed to the Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I can’t really explain what I was feeling before the game (with Lee’s Summit),” said Bell, who missed the Trojans’ first five basketball games due to a lingering knee injury from football. “I didn’t necessarily think much about it until coach said a lot of people were coming out to watch me play. When it comes to that, I don’t really worry about it. I just wanted to come out and win the game.”
An awards ceremony held Tuesday, Dec. 5 at Park Hill High School ended with Bell receiving the Simone. Nine days later, he asked for his release from a basketball scholarship to Missouri State.
Bell originally committed to Missouri State in early September before signing his letter of intent in November.
A third-year starter in football, Bell quickly established himself as a superstar this season and set career-highs and school-records with 89 catches for 1,605 yards and 21 touchdowns. He tallied at least one receiving touchdown in nine of 13 games and added three total rushing touchdowns in two of the games he ended up shutout through the air.
Bell had three 200-yard receiving games (school-record 259 in a win over Liberty North) and seven games with two or more receiving touchdowns, including four in the first of two wins over Lee’s Summit. The big performances — plus the large Simone Award trophy — apparently did enough to convince Bell of his dream future in football.
“If I’m being completely honest, almost my entire life — but especially my sophomore year — I decided college football was what I wanted to do,” said Bell, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound athlete who entered his senior season with just 10 career TD catches. “At the time I committed for basketball, that was what was best for my family and that’s why I made that decision. I was definitely set on that decision, but I just have a good feeling about this football deal.”
With uncertainty swirling around his athletic future, Bell joined Park Hill’s starting lineup last week in the Suburban Conference Gold Division opener with Lee’s Summit. He eventually fouled out with more than 4 minutes left in a game that wasn’t competitive for much of the second half.
Lee’s Summit opened on an 11-0 run with Park Hill committing turnovers on four of its first five possessions — three from Bell.
“It was kind of a bad matchup,” Park Hill coach Chad Jones said. “His first game back. He’s amped up, and Lee’s Summit wanted to play fast. We didn’t really want to play fast, but with all that energy and aggression, sure.”
Lee’s Summit ended up hitting 13 3-pointers — compared to 10 made shots inside the arc — with the hot shooting ultimately making the difference.
Park Hill hadn’t allowed an opponent over 50 points since a season-opening loss to North Kansas City. Bell scored six quick ones early in the second quarter after spending much of the first 8 minutes on the bench following the erratic start.
After having its lead cut to 27-22, Lee’s Summit hit back-to-back 3s to go up double-digits, and the lead stayed there the rest of the way. A 3 at the halftime buzzer made it 39-22 at the break.
Bell had nine in the second quarter and 10 in the third, including an acrobatic layup to set up a three-point play to make it 48-31. Lee’s Summit again hit a 3 at the third quarter buzzer — this one a pull-up as time expired — to make it 56-38.
“Thirteen 3s? It’s hard to win when a team hits that many,” Jones said. “We’ve got some real nice pieces, but I don’t know if our MO is to put up 70 or 80 points a night.”
Park Hill was within 13 at one point in the second half, but Bell fouled out with the Trojans down 67-44. Cecil Lee, a senior forward and the only other active player with significant experience from last year’s run to the Class 5 playoffs, finished with 10 points for Park Hill, while Mitchell Baack added seven.
Park Hill dropped to 3-4 with a third straight loss after Bell scored 23 in a 38-37 overtime loss to Blue Valley North (Kan.) in the HyVee Shootout on Saturday, Dec. 16 at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. The three losses followed a three-game winning streak.
Despite putting Bell back into the starting lineup, Park Hill continues to play without senior point guard Willy Majok (ineligible), although he’s expected back after the holiday break. Majok’s return could force another adjustment to the rotation after some early success, which included a run to the Liberty North Invitational.
Park Hill was scheduled to play rival Park Hill South on Wednesday, Dec. 20 before being the No. 2 seed in the William Jewell Holiday Classic’s Nelson Division over the Christmas break.
“It’s a work in progress,” Jones said. “We’ve got new pieces that are coming, obviously on big one tonight and there’ll be another piece later on down the road. A little bit of the chemistry, a little bit of who we were the last five games, maybe changes slightly.”
Oak Park 49, Park Hill 30
In a rematch of the 2017 Class 5 District 16 title game, the Oakies extracted some revenge behind 27 points for star senior Ochai Agbaji.
Park Hill didn’t have more than 12 points in any quarter and trailed 23-11 at halftime despite a solid defensive effort. Agbaji scored 17 in the second half to help Oak Park pull away.
Only five players scored for Park Hill with Nic Zeil posting a team-high nine. The Trojans didn’t have any 3s and shot 6 of 11 on free throws.