One of the state's best boys basketball rivalries, Heights and Southeast, will be showcased next January as the City League returns to Koch Arena for eight games in two days.
League athletic director Bill Faflick said no dates worked for this season to play at Koch Arena, but that the league is locked in for January 2011 and 2012.
"We love being able to play in a great venue like that," Faflick said. "We like to have our kids have the opportunity. It's really good that it's not just the elite teams, but it's all the kids. It's eight of our nine. It's fantastic and it really helps us to help our kids get highlighted and featured."
Faflick said he tried to work something out with Intrust Bank Arena for this season, but there were concerns the new downtown arena wouldn't be finished on time.
The City League has played at Koch Arena for years. Hoopsfest, one day of City League basketball starting at 9 a.m., started in 1999 and continued through 2002. It returned in 2004.
In December 2008, a form of Hoopsfest returned — instead of all eight City League games played in one day, they were spread out over two days. That's how it will be in 2011 and 2012.
Watching high school basketball games at Koch Arena is special. It's such an intimate setting, yet large enough to seat big crowds. Throw in a huge rivalry, and I expect to see about 5,000 fans there next January.
Watching the best — One of the highlights of covering City League boys basketball is all the talented athletes. The league is so loaded, from top to bottom.
One of the best players in the league, though, is rarely talked about: Bishop Carroll's Blake Bell.
Bell is a dominant presence inside, but I'm betting the reason no one throws him into the mix of top City League players is because he's a football guy. Bell signed Wednesday to play quarterback at Oklahoma.
Before the season, Bell was asked countless times whether he'd even play basketball.
"It's a good question," said Bell, who's averaging 14.6 points, he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say it's not.
"... It's one of those things, if the Oklahoma coaches said they didn't want me to play, I'm out. But they're excited that I'm playing. They say, 'When can we come to see you play?' They love that their recruits play and get active.
"They want me to play basketball. It's good for my footwork.... I've played basketball my whole life, so I might as well play my senior year in the new gym."
Carroll (7-7), which plays host to Southeast tonight, has won three straight.
There's no doubt that Bell is the team's best player — and that football is his ultimate focus.
He didn't play much with the team in the offseason because he traveled to various high-profile quarterback camps. And he was invited to play in the Under Armour All-America all-star game in Florida on Jan. 2, so he missed a week of basketball practice over the holiday break.
"That was a great time," he said. "I saw a lot of guys from the Elite 11, Super Seven (quarterback camps). I was meeting guys on the defensive side of the ball, and offensively.
"We went to Hollywood Studios one night with the guys. We practice, had the game, and it was fun.... It's an experience. It's getting around all the other guys and having fun and showing what you've got."
Carroll's basketball season is more than half over, which brings Bell to his final high school sports goal — a berth in the Class 5A tournament.
"That would be the ultimate goal," he said. "But we have a lot of work to do. Coach (Lonnie) Lollar is getting on us, so he's got us going in the right direction."