Monday, December 5 2022

BY MIKE LUCAS

Senior Writer UWBadgers.com

MADISON, Wis. – Long after practice, Skyler Bell and Keontez Lewis had a hitch. Separated by five meters, they threw a football on their dream field, Barry Alvarez Field at Camp Randall Stadium. It has become a ritual for roommates.

“Number one, they talk about the day,” observed the Wisconsin receivers coach Alvis Whitte. “How was training? What could we have done better? Whatever.

“They have a really good connection. And they’re working. Both of these kids are working. They want to get better. Every time they’re together, it’s not just chatting. It’s about, ‘Hey, wha ‘have you seen ?’ During the warm-ups, they have a routine where they catch and do their exercises together. So, I let them do it.”

During Tuesday’s post-practice take, Whitted stood by the duo for a brief moment and exchanged friendly banter. Some teammates also engaged Bell and Lewis before heading to the locker room. Among them were fellow receivers Markus Bell and Chimera dyke.

“We were just talking about games that happened in training – where we can be better, where we made mistakes,” Bell said of his routine with Lewis. “It’s all just happened. It’s fresh in your mind, it’s recent. We’ll meet later and watch the movie and talk about it there too.”

Tuesday’s on-court conversation turned to basketball. “We were talking about the best high school players we’ve seen in person,” Bell remarked. “Everyone was saying players from their own towns. Chim said someone from Wisconsin, he said Tyler Herro. K-Lew said Jason Tatum from St. Louis.”

Bell hails from the Bronx, a borough of 1.4 million people (and many ballers) in New York City. Limited to picking a single hooper, the best of the best, he admitted with understandable dismay, “It’s tough. I’ve got a lot of big names that have come out of my town.”

Rather than identifying the best player, he came up with the best performance he had seen. When he was in eighth grade, he watched Isaiah Washington score over 50 points at Gaucho Gym, just steps from Yankee Stadium. The New York Gauchos are a legendary AAU program.

Bell played for the Gauchos (whose impressive list of NBA alumni includes Chris Mullin, Pearl Washington, Stephon Marbury, Kenny Anderson, Ed Pinkney, Kemba Walker, to name a few). As a youngster, Bell spent many weekends playing at legendary Rucker Park in Harlem, a hoop paradise.

“A lot of my friends are playing college basketball right now,” Bell said, citing the names of Malachi Smith (Dayton), Kyle Cuffe (Kansas), RJ Davis (North Carolina) and Avery Brown (Columbia). “These are guys I’ve grown up with since second or third year.”

Bell grew up training in her father’s gym. Derrick Bell is a well-known personal trainer and fitness consultant, as well as the CEO and Founder of Guerrilla Prince Fitness/Athletics. In short, the mission statement is focused on the student-athlete with a commitment to “Dominating Sports and Academics”.

In addition to football and basketball, Skyler Bell participated in several sports, including lacrosse and hockey. The latter was one of his favorites. Bell skated for the New York City Cyclones and Riverbank State Park youth teams. He is a big fan of the Washington Capitals, especially Alexander Ovechkin.

“Hockey was probably my main sport,” Bell said, “before football took over.”

Bell advanced his football career at Taft School, a private boarding school in Watertown, Connecticut. Her older brother, O’Shea, dated Taft for a year. A graduate of Stonehill College, he is now associate dean of students for equity and community life at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass.

(Packers running back AJ Dillon played four years at Lawrence before going to Boston College.)

“He (O’Shea) gave me the ins and outs of (Taft) school before I got there, so it was an easy transition,” said Bell, who started in high school (as his brother) before establishing himself as an explosive kick returner and No. 1 receiver. As a junior, he had 36 catches for 549 yards and eight touchdowns.

Whitted has made Bell his top priority in the 2021 recruiting cycle. He has often compared him to the Dallas Cowboys’ Michael Gallup — a wide receiver he coached at Colorado State. In mid-August 2020, Bell committed to the Badgers, the first wide in the class.

Allen followed in November after disengaging from Michigan. In July of that year, Lewis committed to UCLA. He had been recruited by more than half a dozen Big Ten programs. But not Wisconsin. Small world. They are now all part of the Badger rotation, a growing unit.

“Me, Keontez and Markus are in the same class and we kind of gelled right away — we’re always with each other, hanging out, doing something,” said Bell, who grew closer to Lewis. , a transfer in January to the UW . “If you see him, you’ll probably see me. He’s my dog.

“We’re both from inner cities and from the minute he moved here, we clicked.”

On the court, Bell said, “We compete every day. We come to practice to see who’s going to catch the balls and the deepest touchdowns.” In their flat, he said: “If we’re not talking about football, we’re probably sleeping or playing video games. Football is our life right now. It’s all we think about. .”

Last Saturday, Lewis scored his first career touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Graham Mertz in the second quarter against New Mexico State. Suitably challenged by his roommate, Bell caught his first and second career touchdown passes from Mertz in the third quarter. They covered 49 and 19 yards.

“I was excited for my boy – I know what he went through at UCLA playing all year without the ball,” Bell said of Lewis, who had no strikes and just two targets. as a Bruins rookie. “It was exciting for me to see my brother score his first touchdown. We feed each other.”

A year ago, Bell was dogged by hamstring injuries and only appeared in one game, the Las Vegas Bowl. But it was memorable for Bell as he made his first collegiate pass, a 15-yard pass on third-and-9 that led to a field goal and a 20-6 halftime lead over Arizona State.

“It was huge for me, especially as a confidence booster – just seeing me make plays, being able to get my feet wet, getting a first taste of what college football is really about,” said the Bell of 6 feet and 190 pounds. . “I just built this in the spring and fall and now in season.”

After three games, Dike is the receptions leader with nine catches, one more than Bell and tight end Cundiff Clay. Allen and tight end Hayden Rucci have four receptions each. Lewis caught three passes and made the most of them. He has the highest yards-per-catch average (26.7) on the team.

Bell went 4 for 4 against New Mexico State. Four targets, four catches for 108 yards. Coupled with Dike’s 106 yards in Game 1 at Illinois State, it’s the first time the Badgers have had more than one player with 100-yard games since 2017 (Troy Fumagalli, AJ Taylor and Quintez cephalus).

“I’m thrilled for all my kids,” Whitted said of his receiving body, which received a boost on Saturday when Dean Engram, a converted defensive back, entered the stats column with three catches for 65 yards. “They are young, but they are hungry and they want to work. They want to improve.

“This trip they’re all on right now is pretty awesome.”

Bell was grateful for Whitted’s advice. “Even though we’re running good routes,” Bell said, “he’s going to tell us, ‘You could have been better on your break… you could have been better with your behavior and your level of padding. It might be picky, and we might not want to hear it all the time…”

But he credited Whitted’s attention to detail with improving all receivers. Mertz obviously played a role in this development. He ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency (190.9). Ohio State’s CJ Stroud is No. 2 (208.6), 22 points ahead of his school high (186.6) set last season.

On Saturday night, the Badgers face the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time since 2019. Allen will have some extra incentive. He’s from Dayton. Bell will have his own motivation. “The first three games are behind us,” he said, “and conference play is where the season really begins.”

While watching Bell and Lewis go through their post-training capture earlier this week, Whitted said: “I’ve seen them grow from spring in (training) camp until now – they’re growing and they’re getting better – and they still have a long way to go now that we are in the flesh of the conference.

“But I know they will take over because they did.”

A proper baseball idiom. Especially for Bell, a big fan of the Bronx Bombers and Aaron Judge.

Don’t bring up the Knicks.

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