When Fox Tech boys basketball coach Charles Cooper called Robert Bell earlier this month to gauge his interest in a job as his varsity assistant, it didn't take long for Bell to give him an answer.
"That's home," said Bell, who has been an assistant coach at McCollum the past three seasons. "When Coach Cooper called, I saw it as a great opportunity."
Bell, who helped lead Tech to the Class 4A state title as a senior in 1997, was hired at his alma mater last week and will succeed Ruben Segovia as Cooper's top assistant. Segovia, a longtime member of the Buffaloes' coaching staff, is Tech's new head girls basketball coach.
Cooper was in his second season as a Tech assistant coach when the Buffs won state, and he took over the program after Gerardo Marquez left coaching following the Buffaloes' championship season.
"It's always great when you can bring somebody back that the kids can relate to, somebody that's been in their shoes," Cooper said Sunday. "Robert is a good role model beyond basketball. He comes from the same background as a lot of these kids and he got his degree. He's a successful professional. I'm very excited about this."
Ditto for Bell, 30.
"Basically, I want to give back to the district and to the school," he said. "I'm really looking forward to working with Coach Cooper."
Marquez, now principal at Brennan High School in the Northside ISD, called Bell's hiring a "boost to the Fox Tech community" and affirmation of the former standout player's promising career.
"Robert worked very hard to help us win state at Tech," Marquez said. "He was a great leader and was like a coach out on the floor. The other guys respected him because he was like an older brother to them."
Marquez said the familiarity between Bell and Cooper should help them work well together.
"I let my assistants coach a lot when I was at Tech, so I know Charles and Robert got to know each other," Marquez said.
A forward, Bell left Tech as the leading scorer in San Antonio high school basketball history with 2,574 points. West Campus guard Devin Brown broke Bell's career scoring record the next season.
Bell signed with Tulsa as a senior at Tech, but he averaged only 1.9 points and 1.1 rebounds in 36 games over two seasons with the Hurricane. Tulsa coach Steve Robinson left the school before Bell's freshman year to become head coach at Florida State, taking assistant coach Coleman Crawford, who recruited Bell, with him.
Bell languished on the bench in two seasons under Bill Self -- yes, that Bill Self -- who succeeded Robinson. Bell transferred to UTSA after his sophomore season, but he never returned to the form that made him such a promising player as a high school senior.
"One thing I learned in college is that there's a lot of politics in college basketball," Bell said. "I had a lot of adversity, but I'm proud that I stuck with my goal of earning a degree. I never forgot that's why I was going to college in the first place."
Bell tried to live without basketball after completing his career at UTSA in 2002 and graduating with a degree in criminal justice. But he couldn't.
"I missed it too much," Bell said.
So Bell started officiating games not long after he started working as a case worker at a halfway house for newly released prison inmates.
"It was something to do in my spare time and keep me around basketball," Bell said.
Still, officiating wasn't enough to help fill the void Bell felt in his life.
Bell was working as a Bexar County juvenile probation officer when he decided to make a career change.
"I knew I wanted to coach," Bell said.
He caught a break when McCollum had an opening for a criminal-justice teacher in the spring of 2006. Bell was hired that March and also joined boys basketball coach Jerry Soto's staff.
"One of the first things I learned as a coach is that the X's and O's of the game aren't as important as building a rapport with the players and gaining their respect," Bell said. "Coach Soto was great at getting the kids to play hard for us."
The Cowboys made the playoffs in each of the three seasons Bell served as Soto's assistant. Bell was a finalist for the McCollum job after Soto resigned this spring to go into administration.
No doubt, Bell will do a great job as Cooper's assistant. He has a bright future as a high school head coach because he understands the essence of coaching at that level.
"The most important thing for a high school coach is to help prepare kids for life," he said.
Bell and his wife, Kenyada, an East Central graduate, celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary Sunday and are expecting their first child.
Fittingly, the little one is due Feb. 3, or more importantly in Bell's case, during basketball season.
"I told my wife I might be at a game when she's giving birth, but that I'll get there as fast as I can," Bell said.