As recent as five years ago, Montana State basketball forward Jubrile Belo didn’t even have the hardwood on his radar. Now he is one of the rising names in the sport.
Belo’s development into the stat-stuffing, high-flying forward we see today is anything but typical.
—March Madness droughts that could be erased
—Five teams with best ’20-21 national title odds
—Worst-to-first college basketball teams in ’20-21
New home and significant injuries
A native of London, Belo’s friends had to convince him to try basketball, according to a Bozeman Daily Chronicle feature. With an 6-9, 240-pound frame and undeniable athleticism, Belo turned his attention from soccer to basketball in 2015.
Even though he was a Big Sky all-leaguer in his first Division-I season, Belo’s path features numerous bumps and turns. He suffered two significant injuries even before arriving in Bozeman: Belo broke his right tibia in 2015 and, exactly two years later, broke his left tibia. The latter injury came just seven games into his first season at Lamar Community College in Colorado, ending his first American season.
It would have been easy for Belo to dismiss the short-lived dream. He was new to the United States, playing JUCO ball in a town of no more than 10,000 people. Significant D-I playing time probably seemed like a long shot. After all, big men with knee problems come with massive red flags to scouts and coaches.
At the time of the injury, Belo held just one D-I offer in Iona. The EABL product would later receive offers from Montana State, Kent State and Indiana State over the summer. Belo’s potential was never in question, but health and adjustment to the speed and athleticism of American basketball would be key.
Montana State transition
Belo committed to Montana State basketball shortly before the ’18-19 campaign and would later prove MSU’s investment worthwhile. Still hobbled after the second tibia break, he averaged 15 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while starting each of his 30 Lamar appearances. JUCOrecruiting.com would later peg him as its No. 89 overall 2019 prospect the following spring.
Because of the injury-shortened ’17-18 season, Belo was able to receive an eligibility waiver and join the Bobcats as a sophomore instead of a junior. He used the summer to fully rehab his knees and prepare for the D-I transition.
First-year coach Danny Sprinkle immediately featured Belo in the MSU lineup. He opened up his Bobcat career as a starter against Utah State, logging 12 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes of action. His opening night performance served as a foundation of what was to come in a super Year 1.
Sprinkle would retain Belo’s starter status the rest of the year and increase his workload as the season progressed. His first career double-double came against Idaho on Jan. 9 and the second one would soon follow just two weeks later. The final three games of the COVID-19-shortened season were his best, averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds and 2.7 blocks with double-doubles in each appearance.
Expected hiccups in transitioning to American basketball and the D-I level were seemingly nonexistent. By year’s end, Belo had one of the most productive sophomore seasons in college basketball.[table “3” not found /]
Though his height at 6-9 doesn’t measure up with most centers, Belo’s burst and decisiveness make him a force in the Big Sky. He runs the floor fairly well and is already an elite finisher. According to barttorvik.com, Belo’s 54 dunks this past season ranked 10th nationally. He is difficult to defend without fouling as well, ranking No. 6 in the country in free-throw rate while converting 75 percent of his attempts at the stripe.
Belo should emerge as one of the notable figures in mid-major basketball this season. Starting point guard Harald Frey graduated, making way for sit-out UMKC transfer Xavier Bishop to take over quarterbacking duties. As a junior, Bishop led the Kangaroos in scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (3.8 apg) and should be a formidable running mate with Belo.
Bishop’s addition could ease the load for returning shooting guard Amin Adamu, who is a fellow London native and played alongside Belo with the Barking Abbey Basketball Academy. Adamu and Belo are MSU’s only returning double-digit scorers.
Now that both Belo and Sprinkle have a full year under their belts, Montana State should garner some attention in the Big Sky this season. Around the league, defending regular season champ Eastern Washington lost player of the year Mason Peatling; Northern Colorado’s Jeff Linder left to coach Wyoming, and Montana’s top three scorers were seniors.
MSU, meanwhile, is trending up. Fresh off its first winning season since 2010, the Bobcats have a superstar in the making in Belo, a promising young coach in Sprinkle, and a fresh set of newcomers. Montana State basketball is trending in the right direction and could be standing in the national spotlight come March.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.