Look for Pepsi Coliseum to become a player for high school basketball events once the $63 million renovation is complete in late summer 2014.
One of those events could be the just-completed boys Marion County tournament. Marion County athletic directors and state fairgrounds officials have already engaged in very preliminary discussions about bringing at least some of the tournament to the Coliseum, which was originally built in 1939.
"It's my understanding that the coaches seem very interested in looking into it further," Lawrence North athletic director Grant Nesbit said. "It's potentially a very good high school sports setting."
The renovated Coliseum will seat roughly 7,000 fans for basketball, Indiana State Fair public relations director Andy Klotz said. Klotz said there have also been discussions with the Indiana High School Athletic Association about bringing state-level events to the building.
"High school sports are a prime area for us to grow," Klotz said. "We've been very encouraged in discussions with the IHSAA."
County athletic directors have tweaked their tournament several times in recent years, looking to maximize revenue. All of the eight first-round games and the four quarterfinal games are now played at home sites, as is the championship. Southport, the previous site of the championship game, still hosts the two semifinal games.
"The entertainment dollar is getting thinner all the time, so we want to get as many people in the stands as we can and make it easier for them to get to the games," Speedway athletic director Brian Avery said. "The boys tournament is our biggest money-maker of the year, so we have to be somewhat sensitive in whatever we do from an economic standpoint."
Though the plans are in very preliminary stages -- "I wouldn't say it's a definite yes or no," Avery said -- there are at least a couple of intriguing ideas to spice up the Marion County tournament format and utilize the coliseum, which is a central location with spacious parking.
>> Play both the Marion County and City tournament championship games on Martin Luther King Day. The City already plays its championship on that Monday at Tech.
>> Play the four county quarterfinals on Saturday at the coliseum, then play a regional-type format on the Monday of Mark Luther King Day, with two semifinal games early and the championship at night.
"Those are some ideas to potentially increase the revenue stream and appeal to the casual basketball fan," Nesbit said. "I think there's some potential there to utilize the coliseum."
One of the funniest sights of the Marion County tournament was a Perry Meridian student walking the sideline in full referee costume mimicking the game referees during Perry Meridian's 51-28 first-round loss to Park Tudor.
Brenden Dudas, the fake referee, is a senior at Perry Meridian who was cut from the team before the season. Wanting to stay involved, he's become a leader in the student section, also dressing as Santa Claus and a retro basketball player. Tuesday was his first appearance as a referee.
"I could have been sour about getting cut from the team, but I respect coach (Brent) Keck's decision," Dudas said. "I can still be part of it this way."
Dudas said the referees on Tuesday were good-natured about it, even offering him some tips. Dudas focused in on the most demonstrative referee and copied his every move.
After a stoppage in play in the fourth quarter, a Park Tudor player turned to hand the ball to one of the referees. Dudas yelled, "That's a travel, we're going the other way."
Mr. Basketball 2014
Trevon Bluiett's performance for Park Tudor in the Marion County tournament this week -- an average 30.5 points in four wins -- got me thinking about the 2014 IndyStar.com Indiana Mr. Basketball race.
Start with this group: Bluiett, Tech's Trey Lyles, Fort Wayne Luers' James Blackmon and Evansville Bosse's JaQuan Lyle. Assuming none of them bounce to prep school, it should be a tremendous battle.