Fontleroy ‘thrown into the fire,’ looks to maintain strong impact

Freshman forward Bella Fontleroy (22) capitalizes on the fast break layup during a non-conference game against the University of Incarnate Word on Nov. 10, 2022 in the Ferrell Center. Olivia Havre | Photographer

By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer

No. 21 Baylor women’s basketball’s freshman forward Bella Fontleroy has already made her name known and the season isn’t even in full swing. Scoring into double-digits in five of her first seven games and receiving Big 12 Freshman of the Week in November, Fontleroy has started off her collegiate career strong.

The Bears’ program wasn’t on Fontleroy’s radar until a phone call with head coach Nicki Collen. Waco was the Springfield, Mo., native’s fifth official visit, and after the tour, it would be her last.

“I gave [Baylor] a chance,” Fontleroy said. “Whenever I got to campus, I was just like, ‘Okay, I love it here. I’m crazy if I don’t come here.’”

She said head coach Nicki Collen was a big reason Fontleroy became a Bear. The Kickapoo High School graduate said she talked to Collen for several hours on the phone and it was “an instant click.”

“Just watching how [Collen] interacted with the players and coaches, it felt like a home environment and very similar to where I’m from in terms of just the city and things,” Fontleroy said. “We do things the right way here. You’re not going to get to take the easy way out of anything. She holds you accountable for all of your actions, but we have a lot of the same values.”

As a daughter of two former Division I basketball players, hoops is in Fontleroy’s DNA. William and Carolyn Fontleroy both had successful careers playing at Missouri State University and passed on their athleticism and love for the game on to their daughter.

“There’s a legacy of excellence in my family and we always joke that to have a seat at our dinner table, you have to be in pursuit of something great or have accomplished something great,” Fontleroy said. “Not necessarily even in your sport but just in life [and] really be striving to do something.”

After a successful high school career with accolades like Gatorade Player of the Year, Fontleroy looked to carry her drive onto the college court. She said she’s carried over her physicality and three-point shot from high school.

Collen said she is impressed with the versatility of this freshman class, and Fontleroy is no exception. The athlete’s ability to shoot from outside the arc and rebound is like no other.

“She’s a kid that can do both,” Collen said. “She’s a tremendous shooter. If she takes open shots, if she goes to the offensive glass and rebounds, she’s going to be really solid for us, regardless of whether we play her [at] the three, four or five.”

Fontleroy can play multiple positions, from the perimeter to making plays in the paint. Averaging 6.7 rebounds and 10 points in her first seven games, Fontleroy is making an impact on the court.

“Bella on the boards is insane,” Collen said. “She’s just so dang bouncy … for a freshman, she has extreme strength. She’s probably the best on our team at grabbing the ball in a crowd.”

Fontleroy said some games she feels like a freshman on the court, but her teammates have been supportive. Because of their encouragement, she has gained the confidence to make big plays in high-pressure situations.

“Honestly, I feel like we kind of got thrown into fire. They prep us really well for what it would be like this summer, but there’s nothing like actually experiencing the moment,” Fontleroy said. “Since then, there have been games where I felt like a freshman. And of course, that’s no fun because you always want to be able to take those charges and get those stops and do the things just at a higher level. But I feel like I just need to maintain my focus on doing the best that I can each game.”

Fontleroy said she is learning more and more about the game and herself every day and that it’s exciting.

“As a freshman that’s been able to play the minutes that I’ve gotten so far, I’m really, really thankful,” Fontleroy said. “Every day I learned something new, and I’m just really grateful for that opportunity because I’m pushing myself to a new level that I didn’t know I could reach.”