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East Chicago’s Keontaye Bell arrives


Keontaye Bell’s path to regionals wasn’t a winding one.

The junior guard didn’t mince words when summarizing his East Chicago Central career to this point.

“I feel like I wasted my freshman year,” Bell said. “I wasted my second year. But I came out of junior year and now I’m getting my game back. I feel like I’m not fully back yet. But he will come back.”

Although the 6-foot-10 Bell still doesn’t believe he has reached his peak after playing on the junior varsity team as a freshman and missing all of last season, he has been extremely effective for the Cardinals (22-4). The player, who won his first regional championship since 2017, averages 6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals.

East Chicago Central will face Mishawaka (19-7) in the Class 4A Michigan City Regional on Saturday. This win will secure the Cardinals’ first championship at this level since 2007. E’Twaun Moore, Comrade Short and Angel Garcia led them to the 4A state title.

“He’s just a high-energy guy,” East Chicago coach Alaa Mroueh said of Bell. “He directs his teammates to that section. It moves me too. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good. We bicker sometimes, but that’s what quarterbacks and coaches do.

“Some of the things I saw he could do, I just sat back and gave him the green light; just do what he does and go out and play with that energy and the rest will take care of itself. It’s going to be an even bigger season for him next year.”

This season has been a big one for Bell, too, especially during the Cardinals’ seasonal run where the veteran quarterback Jemeil Zengin Jr. He was dealing with ankle and Achilles injuries.

“He got to play a little bit bigger of a role and that boosted his confidence,” Mroueh said of Bell. “They will both be playing at an all-time high.

“Having a senior like Jemeil next to him really helps him. He and Jemeil are close, and I try to be as close to both of them as they are to each other. To have success, you have to have the best connection with your quarterbacks. Sometimes you don’t get along, but that’s the point.” “You see success and you embrace success, and that goes for both coach and player.”

Junior guard Keontaye Bell is averaging 6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.1 steals for East Chicago Central, which won its first regional title since 2017. (Michael Osipoff / Post-Tribune)

Rich was injured in the first quarter of the division opener against Merrillville and missed the semifinal against West Side. He did not expect to play against Munster in the final. But given the way the game played out after the first quarter, Rich said “barely” even if it was well below 100%.

Bell scored 11 points against West Side. He made the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minutes against Munster as East Chicago Central won its 16th straight game. Their last loss came against Chicago Kenwood on December 23.

“He’s like my Robin,” Rich said of Bell. “This is my partner.”

Bell’s freshman season was a struggle. He thanked Mroueh, who was his JV coach at the time, for keeping him on the right track.

“He was the only one I really had,” Bell said. “He was making sure I was doing what I was supposed to do. He made sure I could play. I, on the other hand, wasn’t really helping myself.

Last season, conditions became difficult for Bell and he could not play.

“I’m not going to lie, it was hard to focus in school,” he said. “I was playing too much, getting into trouble. But they convinced me to focus, come back and do what I had to do, and now I’m doing it.

“It’s a good feeling to know that I can come back and do what I’m supposed to do. This is what I was supposed to do. This is what I was supposed to do my freshman year. But now I’m really around my brothers. I’m happy to be back.”

Star young guard/forward Dominique Murphy Among those who are happy that Bell is back.

“He’s a dude,” Murphy said. “He plays very hard. He plays with passion. His personality is there on the field as well as off it. He is an important part of our team. “He is the key to our success.”

Mroueh saw Bell’s potential before he entered high school.

“Even as an eighth-grader, we knew he was the best guard in town,” Mroueh said. “He’s the best point guard in the city and he finally got to show that by playing alongside another elite guard in Jemeil. They both managed to show this. Our backcourt is pretty strong.”

Following Bell’s absence last season, he rejoined the Cardinals over the summer and began to fulfill that potential.

“The last summer league game we played he really locked in and put all his eggs in the basket,” Mroueh said. “He took a big dip after that and obviously had a big season. “He played a big role.

“He’s a great teammate and a good guy in the locker room. He keeps working and he’s reaping the rewards. He’s having a great season and he’s going to continue his success. I’m proud of the way he’s stepping up.”


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