Kierstan Bell had tried it all: Lipton hot tea, amoxicillin, ibuprofen, cough drops, throat spray, and even rest -- something the No. 4 recruit in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2019 class doesn't like doing much.
Bell could barely breathe, barely swallow, and had a fever and chills one afternoon last season. Strep throat had clogged her sinuses and pulled her out of practice. But she had the district finals the next day, against Stow-Munroe Falls (Stow, Ohio), and there wasn't a chance she'd miss it.
Hell, earlier in the season, she dropped 18 against Green High while suffering from food poisoning. She vomited before the game, during halftime and afterward. "She lets nothing stop her," says Pam Davis, Bell's coach at McKinley (Canton, Ohio).
So when Bell took the court with strep throat against Stow, she wasn't fazed by her team trailing by 13. She drilled jumper after jumper to chip away at the lead, then put in a layup with less than 30 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to one.
Davis called a timeout with 12.5 seconds to go. Assistant coach Willie J. Davis Jr. turned to Bell: "Can you make the shot?"
Bell looked at her coach and laughed. Is water wet?
With a defender clobbering most of her body, Bell crossed over and evaded her defender with a shot-fake, finally rising up for the 3. She made it, with 3 seconds remaining. Fans stormed the court after the buzzer sounded, especially the McKinley faithful that ring little gold bells every time their 'Bell' scores.
Folks around Ohio began referring to Bell's game winner as "The Shot."
"It was similar to Jordan with the flu," says her stepfather, BJ Cunningham, who also runs the AAU team she plays for (77 South Elite All Stars). He was referring to MJ's iconic performance against the Jazz, when he dropped 38 points despite severe dehydration and exhaustion in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
But that's not the first NBA player Bell has been compared to.
"People call me She-Bron. They say, 'You that girl. You like 'Bron,'" says Bell, who earned the nickname about a year and a half ago when her uncanny similarities to Mr. Ohio himself, LeBron James, became clear: She's versatile, she's athletic and she's physical.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Bell, now being recruited by dozens of major Division I programs, is big and fast and loves to pass. She can handle the ball 94 feet. Opponents flee when she steals the ball and sprints upcourt.
"They're scared of her," says her mother, Amanda Hubbs. "They just move out of the way."
Bell can body her way to the basket. She can step back and pop 3s. She can post up down low. She can bring the ball up and start the offense. She can throw left-handed behind-the-back passes.
There is not a position she can't play, though she primarily starts at the 4.
"They compare her [to LeBron] just because of the strength and the quickness," Pam Davis says. "She finishes so strong at the rim that even the refs don't call normal bumps, if you will, when she goes to the basket. Another kid might get the same physicality in the paint and get an and-1, but Kierstan finishes through traffic and doesn't always get foul calls."
King James himself actually attended McKinley's game against Massillon Jackson on Jan. 24. "People on Twitter said he was in the house to see his female counterpart," Davis says.
She didn't disappoint. Bell dropped 38 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals to lift her team to victory, scoring coast to coast, posting up and hitting 3s.
And Bell surpassed the 2,000 career points mark on Feb. 14 against Massillon Washington when she scored 30 (to go along with 19 rebounds), bringing her points total to 2,005. She is expected to eclipse the 1,000-rebound mark, too. She's at 979 and counting (fast).
Averaging 32.8 points, 9.9 boards, 5.1 steals, 3.6 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, Bell is a stat-sheet stuffer not always given credit for her defense. She wiggles her way into the passing lane to deflect balls and she boxes out and grabs boards.
She posted two triple-doubles back in December, including a 43-point outburst against Massillon Perry. She also dropped 53 points against the same school in early February.
There is a hunger Bell plays with, an appetite first honed on the football field. She played quarterback and safety. She also broke a boy's collarbone.
He caught the ball and 11-year-old Bell, the biggest player on the field, knocked him down with such force he fell out of bounds. "Boom," Bell says, remembering the play. At the time she hadn't even known he was hurt, until catching up with him later. "Are you OK?" she asked.
The boys respected her. Maybe it's because she, in her own words, is "not scared of anything." She loved doing whatever anyone said she couldn't, like when her stepfather told her she couldn't score three touchdowns in one game: running the ball, throwing the ball and on defense.
She went home with all three. The two laughed because a lesson had been learned: Never doubt Bell again.
Football, though, took a backseat once she excelled in hoops. She had played up all her life -- a second-grader among fourth-graders, a third-grader among fifth-graders, a fourth-grader among sixth-graders, eventually a seventh-grader against varsity players.
And last year, she became the first sophomore to win Ohio's Ms. Basketball in the award's 30-year history.
She wasn't like other tall girls who sometimes start out taller than their peers and only focus on posting up, eventually finding themselves out of place and out of position once their peers catch up.
Cunningham wanted to make sure Bell avoided all of that, so he had her labor on her dribbling and guard skills.
And she kept playing with the boys, especially at Thompson-Snodgrass Park in Alliance, a prime pickup spot in the area. "They'd always be like, 'I got Kierstan, I got Kierstan,' because they know I can dunk," Bell says. "The dudes were really little and I was tall."
She'd stay out there until it was dark, until she couldn't see anything, only feeling the sweat drenching her face.
The grind continued as she got older, and last year she began working out at 6 a.m. with her stepfather.
When college coaches check in with her, they don't start with the usual: How's basketball? How's school? How's your family? Doing anything fun this weekend?
"They ask me, 'what shoes you got on today?'" Bell says, laughing. "They know I love them."
She is just as meticulous about her kicks as she is about making every layup in Mikan Drills. If a shoe has a bit of dirt, or is slightly creased, she won't wear it. It'll just sit in her closet.
She wouldn't do that to her prized red Air Jordan 11 Retros, though, that came out in December. She told herself she wouldn't wear them until the summer, but she couldn't help herself; she has already worn them seven times.
That's kind of how Bell is on the court: When she sees something she wants, she gets after it.
With King James in the crowd back in January for McKinley's game against Massillon Jackson, Bell ripped down a defensive rebound and sprinted coast to coast. She soared past five defenders -- crossing over three -- to finesse her way to the basket and score.
The Queen has arrived.