COLUMBIA — Missouri guard Keion Bell wasn't always a basketball guy.
Bell said he was very young the first time he tried the sport, and he remembers pouting in the back seat of his mother's car not wanting to go to the Crenshaw YMCA in Los Angeles.
Missouri (18-6, 7-4)
vs. Arkansas (15-9, 6-5)
WHEN: 3 p.m.
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
RADIO: KTGR/103.1 & 100.5 FM, 1580 AM
Bell stood on the wrong side of the basketball court with his hands in his shirt. While Bell was meandering around the court, a girl from the other team was single-handedly dismantling his team.
His family yelled, "Run Forrest, Run!" as they watched him stand around.
"He had no concept of the game," Sharon Ross, Bell's mother, said with a big laugh.
Bell's game has come a long way since then, and as a main part of Missouri's system, he is continuing to improve.
His performance was inconsistent early in the season, sometimes scoring 20 points, sometimes not scoring at all. But it appears Bell has found his stride in Southeastern Conference play where he has consistently shown and aggressive style, zipping past defenders to get to the rim.
Bell has scored double digits in each of his past eight games, averaging 16.5 points over the past month and shooting 58.3 percent from the field. He tied his season high Wednesday night against Mississippi State with 24 points.
Bell looks like the scorer he was at Pepperdine — the one who put up 34 points in one half in 2010 against then-No. 15 Gonzaga. When Pepperdine played USC his freshman year in 2008, he dunked on his cousin, DeMar DeRozan, who now plays in the NBA.
"The next day I couldn't walk," Bell said about falling on his back after the dunk. "It was so painful."
Bell always had offensive skills, but his improvement on defense ever since he arrived at Missouri has helped him develop a well-rounded game.
When Bell visited Missouri, Tigers coach Frank Haith's vision for him was to become a top-defender because of his athleticism. Bell, a proven scorer, was skeptical at first, but he said he has found a passion for defense.
"I love it," Bell said. "Just for one key reason: the coaching staff trusting me with that assignment. Just for them to have their trust in me, that they can put me on the other team's best player and try to take him off his element, it's something I love doing."
It has worked. Bell is averaging 1.9 steals per game. His defensive stops have also been putting Bell in a position to score.
"The one thing Keion has done, and we've asked him to do this, is not focus on your offense," Haith said Monday. "Just focus on your defense and the offense will come. It takes time to buy into that because he was doing something he's never done before, being a defensive stopper."
On Saturday, when Missouri plays at Arkansas against former Missouri coach Mike Anderson, Bell will have a big task in guarding Razorbacks guard BJ Young, who is averaging 16.5 points this season.
It is certain Bell won't be just standing around the court like he did that one day at the Crenshaw YMCA.
"Phil (Pressey) can distribute, Jabari (Brown) can knock down shots and I can just take care of this (defending)," Bell said. "It (playing defense) is something over the course of the years I just love doing."