As his college career comes to a close, Oscar Bellfield is reminded of the situation he faced as a high school senior, staring down an uncertain collegiate future.
Four years later, all he can do is laugh.
Instead of committing to any number of mid-major programs pursuing him before his final campaign at Westchester High in Los Angeles, Bellfield decided to wait. His dream had always been to play for a Pac-10 program, and he was determined to make that a reality.
His choice was even documented in a piece featured in a November 2007 issue of Sports Illustrated, fittingly titled ‘A Big-time Gamble.’
A groin injury entering the summer before his senior season led to lackluster play on the AAU circuit. Big-time suitors such as Kansas, USC, Oregon and Boston College stopped calling as much. He was left with more to prove than he’d ever expected entering the year.
While his stock struggled to climb back up in the eyes of many, former UNLV coach Lon Kruger came by and made his second major push at Bellfield. When UNLV had first come calling following his sophomore year, he didn’t give it much thought. The Rebel staff’s persistence ultimately paid off.
And that was that.
On Saturday night, when 17th-ranked UNLV (24-7 overall, 8-6 Mountain West) tips off against Wyoming (20-9, 6-7), it will be the final home game in what has been a quietly remarkable four-year career.
“I really had no idea, I didn’t think it would be like this,” Bellfield said. “It was an opportunity I kind of brushed off earlier in my high school career, and it came back.
“It’s crazy. Sometimes things happen for a reason.”
Bellfield laughs because after dreaming for so long of playing in the Pac-10, he’s been a four-year cornerstone for a consistently rising UNLV program in a Mountain West Conference that right now is simply better than what has become the Pac-12.
At times, his value has been under appreciated, and plenty of that probably comes from the fact that the 6-foot-2 senior has simply been so consistent from the very start of his career until its unwritten end.
The numbers put that value in stone — Or ink, rather, in the program’s record books …
• Saturday will mark Bellfield’s 109th consecutive start, with many of those coming during sophomore and junior campaigns that were marred by nagging injuries.
• He’s led UNLV to 97 wins and counting.
• Bellfield has scored 1,191 career points, good for 23rd in program history and just five points behind senior teammate Chace Stanback.
• Bellfield’s 203 career 3-point makes rank sixth in program history. Realistically, he could reach as high as third on that list, currently occupied by former teammate Wink Adams (208 from 2005-09).
• His 558 career assists rank fifth in UNLV history, and he’s on pace to be only the second Rebel to ever lead the team in assists for four straight seasons, with Mark Dickel (1996-2000) being the other. Also, with seven more assists, he’ll pass New Mexico’s Dairese Gary (2007-11) as the Mountain West’s all-time leader. Not bad for a guy who was more of a combo guard than a true point in high school.
“The consistency, when you know what you’re going to get from a production, effort and leadership standpoint, when you have someone that’s consistent like that, that’s very comforting,” said Lon Kruger, who recruited Bellfield to UNLV and coached him for three seasons before leaving last April to take the head job at Oklahoma. “We didn’t know exactly how that would work out, either. We obviously needed someone to step in. The timing was good.”
Bellfield came right after Kruger had lost his backcourt leader, Curtis Terry, to graduation, and two years after Kevin Kruger had taken the reins of the offense in his lone season at UNLV and led the program to the Sweet Sixteen.
All along, the product has remained steady from Bellfield. He doesn’t turn the ball over much. He can knock down open threes in bunches. He can surprise you here and there with an explosive burst towards the rim and an even more explosive finish. He’s just as calming an influence on the floor as a senior as he was when he was a freshman sporting braces and no tattoos.
“(The consistency) wouldn’t be overlooked by other coaches or our coaches, because coaches love that,” Kruger said. “We always liked Oscar’s enthusiasm, work ethic, competitiveness. Because of those qualities, it’s not a huge surprise that he’s done a terrific job (at UNLV).”
Despite typically being the quiet, consistent cog in the wheel for most of his career, Bellfield’s had his memorable individual moments, too.
They include his game-winning shot as a freshman at Freedom Hall when UNLV upset Louisville on New Year’s Eve, his annual monster performances against rival Nevada-Reno and most recently a 16-point, 9-assist showing in November’s 90-80 upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina at the Orleans Arena.
But when asked what stands out to him more than anything when he looks back on his UNLV career, Bellfield seems to take the most pride in his personal growth, which he said centers around dealing with the unexpected coaching change before his senior season and adapting properly.
“(If that happened) after my freshman year, I don’t think I would have really even cared,” he said “I’d have thought ‘I’ve got, what, three years left?’ It was bigger going into my senior year, wondering what was going to happen. It’s more challenging when entering your senior year.
“When trying to adjust, you hear from most players who go through that say it’s all bad and it all goes downhill. If you go in with an open mind, not focus on that, make the best of the situation, thinks will all work right.”
For the most part, it’s worked out for Bellfield as a senior.
He’s averaging career bests in field goal percentage (40.9%) and assists per game (5.2), while scoring 9.9 points per game. He’s been just as trustworthy of a floor general for Rice as he was for three years under Kruger.
No matter how the season ends, his career accomplishments in college will speak for themselves as Bellfield likely embarks on a professional hoops career.
But how it ends means quite a bit to him.
Last year’s out-of-nowhere shellacking at the hands of Illinois in the first round of the NCAA tournament still doesn’t sit well with him, and despite his gaudy career numbers, Bellfield has never won a Mountain West Conference tournament title or an NCAA tourney game.
Even given UNLV’s road struggles late in the season and inability to capitalize on opportunities to take a share of the league’s regular season title, Bellfield has just as much left to play for as anyone, wanting a fitting ending to his unexpected college story.
“The team has grown from when I first got here, from first going to the NIT to now being in the NCAA tournaments, the rankings, beating a No. 1 team,” he said. “Hopefully it keeps going from here on out.”
Also playing in their final home game on Saturday night will be seniors Brice Massamba, Kendall Wallace and Chace Stanback. All four seniors will be inserted into the starting lineup. Wallace, the only regular reserve of the bunch, gets the start in place of junior Anthony Marshall, who was already prepared to offer his starting spot to Wallace before Rice even approached him about it on Friday. It will mark Wallace’s second career start … Despite a plethora of possible tie-breakers within the standings heading into the final day of the regular season, it appears that UNLV will likely land the No. 3 seed in the upcoming league tournament and Wyoming the No. 6 seed, which would pit them against each other again in Thursday’s quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. back at the Mack … A sell-out crowd is expected on Saturday night, and fans are encouraged to wear white and take part in the annual Senior Night White-Out.
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