From the start, Alecia Bell knew there would be dues to pay. Six of Delaware's top seven players coming into the season were seniors. That included, of course, megastar Elena Delle Donne, who would lead the Blue Hens to the regional semifinals.
So Bell, who started from day one at Woodside, knew she'd be in unfamiliar territory — the bench — as a freshman. And that made things a little easier to take.
"It was something that was obviously a challenge for me since I'm used to playing all the time," Bell said. "But I understood my role on the team. The seniors had way more experience than I did, so it really didn't bother me not playing. I took what time I had and learned from the experience.
"Playing behind the seniors was a great experience, and I learned a lot from them. Just playing them in practice, I learned a lot. You help them get better, but you also get better for when it's your time to step up."
Bell hopes that will be next year. Though she had season totals of 74 minutes and 24 points, Bell is No. 4 among the Blue Hens' top returning scorer. As one of two natural wings coming back, Bell knows that with good preparation in the offseason she could be in the mix for a starting position.
"That's definitely my goal," said Bell, who is spending the summer in Newark, Del. "Obviously, with the five minutes a game I got in last year, I want to increase that. That's why I'm working on my game this summer, so I can contribute more to the team."
Bell's time was to be limited anyway, but it didn't help when she sprained her ankle on Jan. 29. She didn't dress for the next five games. After returning, she had season highs of seven points and 15 minutes in a win over Georgia State.
But overall, things were far different than her four years at Woodside, where she scored 1,426 points in 105 career games. Together with point guard Adrienne Motley, Bell carried the Wolverines to the Group AAA semifinals as a senior. With her height, mid-range jumper and ability to run the floor, she was always a tough matchup.
Last winter, most of Bell's court time came in practice and working in her off time with the veterans. Two in particular put in extra time to help her out. Danielle Parker, a 6-foot-2 forward, worked with Bell on post moves. Lauren Carra, a 5-9 guard, passed on some tips about the backcourt.
In practice, Bell was part of the gold team, the group that goes against the starters. And because she's a 6-foot wing, Bell was often matched up against the incomparable Delle Donne.
"I had to defend her a lot, especially when we were playing a box-and-one," Bell said. "It's obviously so hard because she's so offensively skilled. She's definitely a great player and it helped me defensively guarding her. And it helped me watching her and learning how she plays on offense."
Delle Donne, who plays for the WNBA's Chicago Sky, was impressed by Bell's maturity as much as her game.
"Her leadership skills are impressive for a freshman, and she's really gotten the other freshmen to follow her," Delle Donne said during the season. "I noticed it from day one. She's on the gold team and I told her, 'You have to be the leader.' I think she's going to carry this team on as we graduate so many seniors."
Another thing Bell learned from the bench is what it takes to win. The Blue Hens won a school-record 32 games last season and advanced to the regional semifinals before losing to Kentucky. And with Delle Donne, the program became used to the national spotlight.
"We saw what it took as a team to get there," Bell said. "To make the Sweet 16 as a freshman, even if you don't get to play, was great. I was able to be there and experience the NCAA tournament, which I've watched for so many years, since I was a little girl."