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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
As his collegiate playing career came to an end Wednesday night in Ogden, Utah, the next door in Damen Bell-Holter’s basketball journey swung open.
Wherever the door leads — overseas, developmental leagues or even the NBA — the Ketchikan High School graduate from Hydaburg is ready for the challenge.
"It’s crazy thinking about how I came (to Oral Roberts University) four years ago, and now it’s coming to an end," said Bell-Holter via telephone Friday. "Pretty soon I’ll be done with school, and I’m ready to begin the next chapter."
Bell-Holter said he has one more semester and a summer course before he earns a degree in public relations and continues to chase his dream of playing professional basketball.
With the numbers he put up with the Golden Eagles, the dream isn’t far from becoming a reality.
Bell-Holter leaves the Oral Roberts men’s basketball team as its fifth-best rebounder (878 boards) and fourth-best shot-blocker (139) in school history.
Although his senior season ended on a disappointing note — an 83-74 loss to Weber State in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament — the All-Southland Conference First-Team selection was grateful for the opportunity.
"I was frustrated with the loss, but you can’t really dwell on it," said Bell-Holter, who scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the game. "Rather than being upset, I really started to feel thankful. I was blessed to play Division-I basketball, which not many Alaskans get the chance to do."
Not many from the Last Frontier have played Division I basketball better, either.
Bell-Holter’s 1,389 points in an ORU jersey put him fourth on the all-time list of Alaskans in Division I basketball. Former Duke star Trajan Langdon tops the list at 1,974 points, followed by Eagle River’s Chris Devine (1,607 at UC Santa Barbara) and Juneau’s Carlos Boozer, who scored 1,506 points at Duke before going on to the NBA.
But ask the 6-9 forward about the mark, and he’ll tell you there’s another statistic he’s fonder of.
"I’m more proud about being the No. 1 rebounder (in Division I) to come out of the state," said Bell-Holter, who grabbed 414 more boards in college than Boozer. "I have a trainer who tells me all the time that I’ve got to rebound all year long because that’s what’s going to get me paid. I take a lot of pride in that."
Make no mistake: After four years of being an amateur at the highest level, Bell-Holter is ready for his payday.
He’s meeting with his coaches on Monday to discuss various sports agencies, he said.
Bell-Holter said searching for the right agent is similar to finding the right college as a high school senior.
"It’s just like recruiting," he said. "They all give you their spiel ... but it comes down to who works the hardest for you. It’s all about connections and who pushes the hardest for their players."
Bell-Holter said he hopes to get invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament — a tournament in April featuring some of the best seniors from across the country.
The PIT is watched closely by teams from the NBA and overseas alike, looking for valuable players who might not be top picks in the upcoming NBA draft.
"They invite guys who are high draft picks first, but those guys usually decline," Bell-Holter said. "My coaches are going to make some calls ... but even if I don’t get that opportunity, I know I’ll have chances elsewhere."
Bell-Holter has not ruled out the possibility of taking his talents overseas, where top-college players — such as Langdon — have gone and found their share of success and wealth.
Besides, his basketball journey already has included stops at a high school in Ketchikan, a prep school in New Hampshire and a college in Oklahoma.
Bell-Holter’s ready to walk through the next door, whether in Spain or Sacramento — or somewhere in between.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason," he said. "I’ve been blessed to come from a small community and have a chance to play big-time basketball. Whatever happens will be for the best."