Seven years ago, Marty Beasley had a student named Brandon Durnell in driver's education.
On Jan. 14, the pair will stand on the same sideline, coaching against each other in a Northeast 8 conference clash.
Beasley, a longtime coach at Carroll and Garrett, and Durnell, just out of Spring Arbor University and in his first head coaching job, are the new faces in the NE8 this season, taking over at DeKalb and East Noble. Both of them take over programs that finished below .500 last season and relish the challenge that comes with building a winning culture and connecting with players.
“It's a great challenge,” said Beasley, who has spent the last 16 seasons at Carroll. “Sometimes we can get stale in what we do a little bit and we need challenges in our life. We had the Carroll program going pretty well there, and had fun doing it.
“But at this point in my career, (taking over at DeKalb) was a good move to recharge the batteries. I've got another five, 10 years yet. Hopefully, we can get this turned around.”
Beasley crossed 300 career victories last season and finished the year with his fifth sectional title at Carroll. He'll start from scratch with a Barons program that hasn't been above .500 since 2015 and hasn't won a sectional since 2005.
Beasley did not promise any quick fixes: in his first seasons at his previous stops his teams have gone a combined 13-28. The Barons have dropped their first two games this season.
“We're going to get better as a team, and we're going to find success that way together,” Beasley said. “It's not flipping a switch and all of sudden you're going to win. You have to break some poor habits they've had in the past, you have to push yourself to work harder.”
Accountability is at the center of Beasley's program-building philosophy, and defensive intensity and toughness are at the center of his basketball philosophy. His focus in the early days of his tenure has been on instilling an identity in his new program.
“We've got to get an identity of who we are, that when people start thinking of DeKalb basketball, they think, 'They're going to do this really well,'” Beasley said. “It will come in time, and when it comes it will be a lot of fun.”
Durnell wants his program's identity to revolve around three key facets: love, commitment and toughness. Those three combined will create a family-like atmosphere at East Noble, and Durnell has already started preaching that brand to everyone from his current players to elementary school students in the Knights' pipeline.
The 6-foot-6 Durnell played high school basketball at Homestead and then starred for four years at Crossroads League member Spring Arbor, where he averaged 23.6 points and 11 rebounds in 2020-21.
Barely nine months after his final college game, he earned his first win as a high school head coach, when East Noble defeated Lakeland on Saturday. His players celebrated the victory by dumping water on him.
There was some early skepticism from those players about Durnell's lack of experience, but he quickly won them over.
“My first impression was he was just coming out of college, he's got no idea what he's doing, it's not going to be a good year for us,” Knights center Chris Hood said. “But I was completely wrong. He's exactly what we needed to turn this program around. He's going to help us win a lot of games this year.”
East Noble went 21-4 in 2018-19 then slipped to 8-15 last season. The Knights have not won a sectional since 2001. In response, Durnell wants his team to play faster and pushed his players to be confident on offense.
That could create an interesting clash of styles when the first-year coaches meet in January.
“It's definitely a weird feeling and makes me feel like I'm getting old even though I'm 22,” Durnell said of the prospect of coaching against Beasley. “I think it's going to be really cool building relationships with those other (NE8) coaches, too. Yes, winning and losing and competing, but us coming together as a whole coaching staff in the (conference) and putting kids first, regardless of wins or losses.”
NE8 Playersto Watch
DJ Allen, Leo: The 6-foot-7 Rutgers-bound defensive end was also a key contributor on last season's Lions team that won the program's first regional and semistate titles. Allen averaged 13 points and 7.7 rebounds and will need to carry a bigger scoring load with Blake Davison at Indiana Tech.
Luke McBride, Norwell: Already a two-time First-Team All-NE8 selection heading into his junior season, McBride, son of Knights coach Mike McBride, was among the leading scorers in the conference as a sophomore at 21.8 points per game.
Jakar Williams, New Haven: Williams is a do-it-all force for the Bulldogs, who finished 6-1 in conference play last season and are looking for more. He can score on the perimeter or down low and his passing ability – he averaged 4.2 assists last season – equals that which he displayed on the football field, where he was an all-conference quarterback.
Andrew Hedrick, Columbia City: Like McBride, Hedrick was First-Team All-NE8 as a sophomore last season, when he averaged 10.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Connor Penrod, DeKalb: Arguably the best player former Carroll coach Marty Beasley inherits as he begins his building process with the Barons, the 6-5 Penrod is a solid post presence and will be the interior anchor of the stifling defense Beasley is trying to create.