Basketball season is over for all but North Little Rock as the ‘Cats play for two state titles today in Hot Springs at the Bank OZK Arena, which has been North Little Rock’s home away from home in March for the last decade.
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For boys coach Johnny Rice, it will be his seventh state championship game at the school and has won five. The other for the other thumb, will start at 7:45 p.m. and immediately follow Daryl Fimple and the girls at 6 p.m.
This is also Fimple’s seventh state championship game at North Little Rock and if he wins it will be one for the thumb as it would be his fifth ring.
The doors open at 5 p.m. and it is highly encouraged to get there early.
It is fair to say that both North Little Rock teams are the heavy favorites.
North Little Rock will face Bentonville, a team they beat, 60-33, but Rice was quick to point out that it was an “exhibition game” played in November and there’s been lots of basketball since. On the other hand, North Little Rock has two McDonald’s All-Americans in 7-foot center Kel’el Ware and 6-5 guard Nick Smith Jr. They’ve signed, respectively, with Oregon and Arkansas.
Plus, Smith is a finalist for National Player of the Year and is already projected as the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft by ESPN. Bentonville counters with Abel Hutchinson, the grandson of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and a 6-4 college prospect, much like his brother, Asa IV, who now plays at Drury in Missouri.
On the girls side, North Little Rock faces Fort Smith Northside, a conference rival they’ve beaten twice this season and Fimple has a loaded team with four seniors, who will all play in college next season.
So, yeah, fair to say both are favorites.
All state championship games will be televised live on Arkansas PBS for those not able to make the drive to Hot Springs.