The only head basketball coach among Texas public high schools who finished the 2019-2020 season undefeated is the man hired to lead the Glen Rose High School boys team.
Jake Bell, who guided No. 1-ranked Martin’s Mill to the Class 2A boys state tournament with a sparkling 39-0 record, was announced by the GRISD on June 1 as the Tigers’ new coach.
"I’m excited," Bell said of being named to the post. "When I think of Glen Rose I think of opportunity. It’s a fantastic school — a premier school district."
Bell said that after watching the Tigers play on film from last season, he noted that the returning players seem to be "highly skilled, great kids with a good work ethic. They have a lot of senior leadership, and talented sophomores in the mix."
He said his initial goal with the Tigers is to "get better every day we step in the gym," and "the results will take care of themselves."
Bell, 30, had his Martin’s Mill Mustangs on the verge of a potential state championship, scheduled to play San Saba in the Class 2A semifinals on Friday, March 13 — the second day of the three-day tournament in San Antonio.
But the day before that, March 12, was when the University Interscholastic League decided to cancel the rest of the boys tournament for Class A through 6A schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic concerns. The girls state tournament had already been completed the previous weekend.
Bell told the Glen Rose Reporter on Monday that representatives from all of the schools that were unable to finish the boys state tournament had a Zoom video conference call with UIL officials. It was decided that all of the boys teams that qualified for the tournament would carry a title of "state co-champions" for the 2019-2020 season.
On Wednesday, Bell said by phone, "We will be presenting the trophy (at Martin’s Mill High) tomorrow (June 11). We will get our gold medals next week.
Only one other UIL school — the girls team from Class 6A Cypress Creek — entered this year’s state tournament with an unbeaten record. But that squad finished with an imperfect 40-1 record after losing on March 7 to Duncanville in the state title game.
The boys team with the state’s second-best season record, 36-1 Lancaster, was scheduled to play Fort Bend Hightower in the Class 5A semifinals when the tournament was shut down.
"That 39-0 run is probably something that won’t ever happen again," Bell said, noting that his Mustangs defeated "14 or 15" state-ranked teams last season, including three — Slidell, Peaster and Nazareth — state tournament qualifiers.
That was the first undefeated boys basketball team in Martin’s Mill history.
Even though his Mustangs didn’t get to finish their potential state title run, he said, "I focus more on the journey than the result. It was a great team — unique."
Bell, who had also been Martin Mill’s athletic director, said the basketball team lost only three seniors to graduation this spring, but two of those were outstanding four-year starters.
In the 2018-2019 season, he led Martin’s Mill to the state semifinals with a 37-3 record and a No. 3 state ranking. From 2015-2018, Bell led the Mustangs to the regional tournament twice, with one area finalist team.
Owen Clifton stepped down as the Tigers’ varsity boys head coach just before spring break. He had been named as the GRHS head coach in April 2015. Clifton will continue as the school’s head golf coach, as well as having classroom teaching duties.
Matt Garnett, a 2001 GRHS graduate, had signed a contract in early April to coach the Tigers. But on May 22 he told GRISD officials he decided not to take the position, citing family reasons. Garnett is the owner and lead director of MGBasketball in Aledo, and his wife recently was offered a job in that area.
Prior to Martin’s Mill, Jake Bell was head coach at Ector High School where he took over a program that had only three wins the previous year and won 20 regular season games in 2015. As head coach at Crowell High School in 2012-2013, his team compiled a 27-6 record and had one regional semifinal appearance.
Bell’s career head coaching record is 208-38. He has had six players earn all-state honors, and 11 who were named all-region.
Bell has been named district Coach of the Year five times and was named the Tyler Sportswriters East Texas Coach of the Year in 2019-2020. His teams won the TABC 3-point championships in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
He is a Brock High School graduate where he was a two-time all-state basketball player while playing for his father Jeff Bell. He was also named district offensive MVP.
Bell was a member of the 2009 Mary Hardin-Baylor recruiting class. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Studies Education from Abilene Christian University, Master of Education from Lamar University and will complete his Doctorate of Education in August 2020.
Jake Bell’s father, Jeff Bell, is now coaching at North Hopkins High School. He coached the Brock boys to state basketball championships in both 2002 and 2003, and also led the Eagles to the state finals in 2012 and 2013.
In March, Jeff Bell was recognized for reaching the 800-victory mark for his coaching career. But the previous month, Jake earned his 200th career victory with a 66-27 win over his father’s North Hopkins squad.
When he was a high school player in Dimmitt, Jeff Bell learned the game under Kenneth Cleveland, who finished his distinguished coaching career with more than 1,000 wins.
"I learned a lot from my dad," Jake said.
When asked if he had learned one specific key to winning at the high school level, Jake Bell said, "I think it’s just being passionate, and loving your kids. Love them, and they will run through a wall for you."
As for his strategic views, Bell said, "We want our teams to defend at a high level."
He said he likes to use a full-court press when appropriate, and "play a variety of half-court defenses."
Bell will also coach boys cross country at GRHS, along with teaching P.E. and athletics classes.
Bell and his wife, Amanda, are expecting their first child this November, and they are in the process of looking for a home in Glen Rose. Amanda works as a physician’s assistant.