Barry Bell’s harshest critic when he was having a bad game wasn’t Cal Poly Pomona basketball coach Greg Kamansky.
It was Makhiya Jones-Robinson, Bell’s 10-year-old sister. She wanted to know why the graduating senior missed so many three-pointers or didn’t try to dunk.
Bell and Makhiya have always had a special bond. During high school, he drove her to and from school. While their mother worked in the afternoon, Makhiya’s daily routine was to watch her brother’s basketball practice, and that’s when she found her penchant for critiquing his performance.
Early on, Bell, who is graduating with a bachelor’s in sociology, took on the role of father figure for the family. His dad passed away when Bell was 5.
“I learned a lot from my coaches, teammates and friends,” he says. “A lot of them didn’t have a father figure so we had to learn a lot of things from each other, like how to become a man. When one of us had an interview, we’d ask each other what to wear and how to tie a tie.”
From growing up in Oakland to accepting his degree at Commencement on Sunday, June 12, Bell’s life has always revolved around family. Faced with the tremendous void of losing his father, he and his family cemented an unbreakable bond.
At Senior Night in Kellogg Arena this past February, Bell’s mother and sisters traveled from Oakland and wore matching shirts that featured his photo.
“I didn’t know anything about those shirts beforehand,” he says with a laugh. “I have no idea what they’ll have planned for Commencement.”
Cal Poly Pomona basketball was not the only program pursuing Bell’s talents in high school. He also received calls from conference rival Chico State.
“When I came on my recruiting trip, CPP felt like home,” he says. “It reminded me of the atmosphere and attitude from high school, just the way the guys were and how comfortable I felt.”
After meeting Kamansky during the recruiting process, Bell said he knew he had found the right mentor, coach and role model.
“He always had confidence in me, even when I was down,” Bell says. “He pulled me aside and tried to help. That’s how we developed the close relationship we have.”
Part of a coach’s job is to correct mistakes, but for Kamansky criticism is never personal and he always has the student-athlete’s best interest in mind.
“Coach Kamansky never made me feel lower than him or less of a man,” Bell says. “He might have gotten on me, but it was always for a reason.”
Bell started his undergraduate career by enrolling in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) along with remedial courses for math and English. EOP provides support services for low-income, first-generation students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Barry is a survivor. His focus and drive is tremendous,” Kamansky says. “Just like anybody else, it took one year for him to adjust to university academics, but it has been amazing to watch Barry’s growth as a person and as a student-athlete through his time at CPP.”
When he walks across the stage at Commencement, Bell will be reflecting on all of the people that made his graduation possible. Along with Bell’s family, Kamansky has also played a key role in his success.
“I will have tears of joy,” Bell says. “I have come a long way and overcame a lot of obstacles. Five years ago, I left Oakland and I’ve been able to grow as a man and a person while meeting a lot of great people at Cal Poly Pomona. I am thankful that coach Kamansky gave me an opportunity to do that.
“It will also be special to see my family there. I’ll be the first from my immediate family to graduate from a university.”