Frank Bell coached the junior varsity team last year.
Frank Bell didn’t play competitive basketball growing up.
That's an odd trait for a head basketball coach, but it's Bell's truth.
“I was too shy to play,” Bell said.
Bell, the new girls basketball coach at Lakewood Ranch High, was raised in Richlands, N.C., where basketball reigned supreme. Duke and North Carolina dominated discussions. And even though Bell didn’t play competitively, he was a lifelong fan of the game.
Bell moved to Lakewood Ranch in 1999. When his daughter, Kayla Bell, was old enough to play basketball, she found herself on the Next Level Basketball travel team coached by Tina Hadley, who would also coach the Mustangs from 2006-2017. From chatting at travel team practices, Bell and Hadley became friendly, and he volunteered to help run drills at Next Level practices. When Hadley needed to hire a new Mustangs assistant coach in 2014, she knew where to turn.
Bell was an assistant for the team’s deep playoff runs in the LaDazhia Williams era. Last year, he was the head coach of the junior varsity team. Now, after previous coach Melanie Johnson stepped down to spend more time with her family in August, Bell was ready to move up.
“Tina Hadley taught me how to be a professional,” Bell said. “She taught me the fundamentals of coaching. She taught me how important it is to understand your girls, your players. Not everything is about the Xs and Os. If you get your players to believe in your system and get them to play hard, you will be alright.”
Bell said he has also taken on Hadley’s penchant for aggressive play, especially on defense. He is emphasizing tight man-to-man coverage and his players have leeway to go for steals and blocks.
The Mustangs have an inexperienced team, with four juniors, three sophomores and a freshman, plus two seniors in forward Taylor Woodring — whose primary sport is softball — and guard Christina Williams. The good news? Bell coached many of these players at the JV level last season. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, and he believes the Mustangs can make a run at a playoff berth, even though the timing of his hire meant he missed most of the offseason to implement his system.
“I expect for us to win,” Bell said. “I expect us to get to the playoffs. Anything else is unacceptable.”
The Mustangs are 1-1 thus far, losing their opening game 55-38 to Lakewood High, a regional semifinalist team last year, in St. Petersburg, before beating Boca Ciega High 53-34 in Gulfport.
Bell pointed to junior Jordan Brown and Taylor Young and sophomore Kaylee Kehler as players who will provide scoring this season.
Besides earning wins, Bell wants to establish the girls basketball program as a family.
“I want them to be able to talk to me about what’s going on in their lives,” Bell said. “Everything we do is team-first. I am lucky to have received great support from (athletics director) Kent Ringquist and the community, and I am grateful for the opportunity to grow this family."