CAPE GIRARDEAU -- The much-anticipated Bell City-Scott County Central Class 1 sectional matchup, scheduled for Tuesday, offers several intriguing storylines.
However, the game's true significance lies in the quest of a common goal of both teams -- to capture a state title.
Coaching changes, player transfers and innuendos of improper recruiting have been season-long coffee shop and Internet topics as well as polarizing issues in the two communities, separated by just 13 miles.
"There are some personal things that have been said, but when it comes down to this game, the bottom line is I have a lot of respect for their players and the way they play," said former Bell City coach David Heeb, now in his first season at Scott County Central. "Any differences that us adults have shouldn't mean anything come Tuesday night. I'm not going to take a shot during the game. I think anybody coming looking for drama is going to be disappointed.
"It's certainly going to generate a lot of interest. I think a few people are going to show up at the game."
In a highly successful six-year tenure at Bell City, the Heeb-led Cubs reached the final four four times, claiming state titles twice.
When the head coaching position opened at Scott Central, Heeb took the job at his alma mater.
Brian Brandtner, who had a successful three-year run at Caruthersville which included only the second district title in the school's history, replaced Heeb at Bell City.
Brandtner, on outside distractions, said, "There's a lot of sideshow stuff going on, but our job is to keep focused and go out and prepare like we would for any game. There's so much bull floating around out there and nobody really knows what's going on, but everybody's talking about it. We've just got to get past that and on to the game of basketball.
"It's a shame that, around a high school basketball game, there's so much bad hype, not hype about the game but circumstances around it."
It is unlikely anything superficial will affect the play on the floor as both teams are well aware of what is at stake.
Bell City, ranked third in Class 1, has proven itself as a dominant team at 25
-4 with losses only to larger class schools. Since suffering back-to-back losses to Class 5 Jackson and Class 3 Charleston, Bell City has won 16 of 17, the lone loss to state-ranked Class 3 Doniphan.
"It's going to be a challenge," said Heeb. "They've got every edge imaginable -- size, depth, experience, strength. We know it's a tall order, but, at Scott County Central, we don't play for moral victories. We're going to carry that flag for our alumni and all the people that love Scott Central and go out there and try to win."
Bell City does, in fact, pose serious matchup problems for opposing teams.
First, there's 6-foot-10, 300-pound post Will Bogan, a junior transfer from Charleston. Bogan leads the Cubs in scoring and rebounding at a double-
digit pace of 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. He also blocks four shots and feeds two assists per game.
The Cubs also possess one of the area's best perimeter shooters in sophomore guard Nick Niemczyk, who averages 18 ppg with 3 apg. "He's a gamer," said Brandtner, of Niemczyk, "and he brings, not just scoring but, savvy on defense plus he's a gritty kid."
At the point-guard position is hard-nosed senior Blaine Stewart, who averages 8 ppg with 4.5 apg and provides gutsy floor leadership. In addition, the Cubs sport a solid supporting cast.
"We're playing great basketball right now," said Brandtner. "Everybody knows about Niemczyk and Bogan, but (6-1 senior forward Jeff) Liggins has really taken it to another level. (Six-foot sophomore leaper Phillip) Gross has elevated his game and we've got guys coming off the bench, (6-1 senior Garrett) McIntyre and (6-1 senior Kerry) Lasters, who have been giving us great minutes."
Said Heeb, "Their kids have been here before. Jeff Liggins cut his teeth on the state tournament when he was a freshman. It's nothing new for Liggins and Stewart and those kids. They've been here and done it."
Youthful Scott Central, which starts three sophomores, one freshman and a senior, is playing its best ball of the season, too.
"We've got a bunch of young pups out there, just learning the ropes," said Heeb, "but we're playing awfully well right now. I know what we're up against but I'd play anybody with this bunch because they believe they can win."
The Braves (16-13) have won nine of their last 11 -- four in a row -- while averaging 86 points per game and scoring more than 100 three times during that stretch.
Scott Central advanced to the sectional round with a district final win, as the No. 2 seed, over top-seed Clarkton.
Leading the Braves is D.D. Gillespie, a sophomore transfer from Bell City and the subject of much of the controversy.
The multi-talented 5-10 point guard averages 22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals per game.
"He's dominating the game right now in so many areas: defensively, scoring points, involving his teammates and rebounding," said Heeb.
His on-court presence and maturity earns kudos from Heeb for the recent run of success.
"I give him a lot of credit for how we're playing right now," Heeb said. "He's such a good scorer and, at times this year, he's had to let go and trust these younger kids who weren't as experienced yet. Now that he's done that, he's allowed his teammates to get better. He's made them better."
Caleb Johnson, a physically impressive 6-1 sophomore, can take his game inside or out. Johnson averages a double-double of 18 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, along with two steals.
The Braves' recent rise coincides with a move to bring 5-11 senior forward Pershard Owens off the bench.
"Pershard has been on fire the last 10 games," said Heeb. "He's just effective. He gets things done."
Owens averages 10 points and 6 rebounds per contest.
Brandtner, on the Braves, said, "They've got great quickness and they've got great guards with D.D. and Caleb and the Owens kid is really underrated."
Perhaps the unsung hero for Scott Central is senior guard Josh Chamberlain. "He is Mr. Intangible for our ballclub," said Heeb. "The other night (in the district final) he had eight assists and seven steals. He does things that don't show up in the boxscore. The biggest thing is the intensity he brings every night."
Heeb said it's been a total team effort by his club.
"It's been a different kid every night for us," he said. "Tuesday night (semifinal), it was (freshman) Drew Thomas; Thursday night (final), it was (6-2 junior Richard) Brownlee. It's been a maturation of our team really and we've been blessed to have some older kids that didn't give up on having a good year."
Asked what emotions he might feel for several of his former players, Heeb said, "I'll be rooting against them Tuesday, but, if they get by us, I won't have a problem rooting for Nick Niemczyk or Jeff Liggins. They're good kids and they play the game the right way.
"It does make me feel proud that I may have had a little something to do with it, but the bottom line is they've got a real good team and we're going to try to beat them. Our expiration date has run out. We shouldn't be where we're at right now, but we're going to try to keep this thing going."
Brandtner, on his heavily-favored and highly-touted Bell City club, said, "There's some great teams out there, so we'll find out who's the best in the next two weeks."
The sectional game venue is the Cape Central Junior High School Gymnasium at 205 Caruthers St. (the old Cape Central High School) with tipoff at 8:15 p.m.