- National Teams
Nothing takes Jubrile Belo by surprise anymore, at least not on the basketball court. And why should it, as the Montana State big man and London native spent last year punishing defences throughout the Big Sky Conference as he earned all-league accolades.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Just a few years ago, Belo had freshly landed in the United States, entering school at Lamar Community College in Lamar, Colo. as he pursued his basketball dream. It was a three-plus hour drive from Denver to the Junior College program and, for the Londoner, a world away at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
“The biggest thing was just the way people talked,” Belo said. “It was like honestly they couldn’t understand anything I was saying, and the words I used were very different from the words they used.”
The basketball was different too. Belo spent a year at Barking Abbey School’s Basketball Academy, but was thrust into a new reality at Lamar. That was particularly the case as he took in the scenes at Junior College showcases shortly after arriving in the States, such as the Rocky Mountain Showcase and Dallas Jamboree.
“It was very competitive and physical. I wasn’t used to it at all, it was a different experience. So I had to get used to that,” he said. “Especially during the Jamboree, it really opened my eyes and I saw a lot of different teams and styles of play, and the way basketball was played was so fast with a lot of athletic people.”
The junior big man is not being caught off guard anymore.
Belo has grown into one of the best players in the Big Sky. After being named the league’s Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore in 2020, he made the all-league third team this past year, taking home Big Sky Player of the Week honours in mid-January. His stat line (14.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 61.8 FG%) also put him in rare company. Only six other Big Sky players have posted such numbers over a single season since 1992, most recently Eastern Washington’s Jacob Wiley in his 2017 league Player of the Year campaign.
That production helped lead Montana State to a 13-10 (8-6) campaign in a competitive, balanced Big Sky. He was notably flanked by fellow London native and Barking Abbey product Amin Adamu, who led the Bobcats in scoring last season (14.7 PPG) as a senior. They both joined the program in summer of 2019, having both been recruited by assistant Chris Haslam, an Englishman and former big man who played 13 professional seasons around Europe.
That was part of what drew Belo, then a high profile Junior College recruit, to the program.
“I felt coming here would just be the right place for a big to play, because obviously [Haslam] is the coach of the bigs so he gets us, and he was so successful in his career and I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
In that vein, Belo had unstoppable stretches in the paint last season. He dropped in 32 points (13-13 FG) against Sacramento State in early March and 24 points (8-8 FG) against Idaho in late February, making him the only Montana State player since 2010 to score at least 24 points without missing a field goal.
That low post poise and strength hasn’t always been there. Basketball itself wasn’t always there either.
Belo said he was mostly a football player growing up. He didn’t watch much basketball outside of LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, and certainly didn’t know any U.S. college teams. But around Year Nine his friends began to drag him to the basketball courts, and when he got to Sixth form he joined Barking Abbey where he said he had first eye-opening hoops experience. He met higher level players than he’d ever played with, and fell in love with the sport.
It was Manchester Giants coach Lloyd Gardner, then Barking Abbey director of operations, who first suggested to Belo that he could cut it playing college in the States. Before that conversation, he said it hadn’t even crossed his mind as a possibility, but after a summer trip to play in Spain and being selected to the Great Britain under-20 team, he began to believe.
Gardner talked to the Barking & Dagenham Post about Belo when he signed for Lamar in 2017.
“Jubrile has been a real major player with our D4 team, came in with limited experience but he’s proven himself week on week and he’s also had good performances in the EABL.
“He’s a late bloomer, and Lamar will be getting a fine pick up of a player, who is very much on his upward curve, improving and has a chance to get really good.”
That upward curve certainly continued at Lamar. He exploded as a sophomore, starting every game and averaging 15 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. To Belo, those two years playing Junior College basketball on the High Plains proved pivotal.
“I just became more physical; I developed the physicality to just go up strong and finish layups. Before then I used to miss a lot of bunnies and stuff like that. Just getting stronger has changed my game,” he said.
There’s plenty more on tap for Belo at Montana State. Amid the transfer frenzy throughout the sport, he’s committed to Danny Sprinkle and the Bobcats for his remaining two years of eligibility. And the way last season ended has him especially hungry.
The Bobcats jumped out to a 6-0 start to Big Sky play before suffering a five-game losing streak. They would, however, finish strong, and carry that momentum into the league tournament, reaching the championship game as the fifth seed. That included knocking off regular season champion Southern Utah in the semifinals, with Belo scoring 22 points and pulling down eight rebounds in the overtime upset over the top seed (Adamu led the way with 29 points).
The Bobcats would lose to Eastern Washington in the final, but both games left an impression on Belo.
“We just showed so much perseverance against Southern Utah,” he said. “There was a lot of talk before that we weren’t going to do anything in the tournament because we were the fifth seed, but that whole tournament run and that game showed a lot of fight and the potential in our team. The [championship game] made me realize the things that we need to do and what it takes to win at that level.”
For Belo, that includes working on his passing and decision-making this offseason as he continues to see more double teams in the post. He also said he wants to simply focus on being more consistent in all aspects of the game.
However his game improves, as Belo takes the floor next season, he’ll continue helping blaze the path for British basketball players in the States.
“I just feel like my work and the results are starting to show. People playing basketball in the U.K. can see that they can actually come out here because there’s been guys before like me that came from nowhere, and that they too can make it out here if they just work hard.”