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HAMMOCK: Veteran hoops coaches Martin, Marelle guide Spartan teams

When you coach basketball as long as Eddie Martin and Joe Marelle, you build a lot of relationships. Even with referees.

Those local officials have enjoyed this season, being able to trade barbs regularly with a Greater Atlanta Christian bench that now features both longtime coaches. Between them, they've coached more than 1,500 varsity games, just about all with Gwinnett teams.

"(Officials) give us grief," said Marelle, who joined Martin this season as an assistant. "And they come up to us and say it's not fair to have you two guys on the same bench."

That tandem serves as an easy target for referees, but most importantly it gives the Spartans a wealth of basketball knowledge that few high school staffs can match. As the popular saying goes, "they've forgotten more basketball than most coaches know."

Between the two, they have almost 1,000 high school victories -- Martin has 571 and Marelle has 394. Marelle would be much closer to Martin, but he's been too busy repeatedly kicking cancer's tail, beating both non-Hodgkins lymphoma and leukemia over the past decade.

The coaches were regular adversaries for years when Martin was at Brookwood (from 1981-2001) and Marelle at Duluth (1981-2004). They made their marks there -- the Broncos' court is named in Martin's honor and the Duluth gym bears Marelle's name -- then went their separate ways. Martin won three state titles at Norcross and Marelle led Mount Pisgah to a state championship.

They reunited this season when Martin, in his second season at GAC, needed an assistant to fill the void left when Cal Boyd (GAC girls) and Ivan Iverson (Providence boys) took head coaching jobs. It turned out his old friend Marelle, who still teaches at Duluth, was available.

Now Marelle works with Martin during varsity games, in addition to leading GAC's ninth-grade team to an unbeaten season.

"We've both been doing it long enough, I guess we're both considered old-school coaches," Martin said. "We're going to be fundamentally sound and teach things a certain way to be successful. But we take that old stuff and adapt to the new stuff. Both Joe and I are able to adapt to new ideas. And we throw ideas off each other all the time."

In the past, they used those ideas against each other. Martin got the best of Marelle early in their careers, but Marelle closed the gap later in his tenure at Duluth as they went head-to-head countless times and developed a mutual respect for the other.

That relationship has only grown now that they're colleagues.

"Our basketball fundamentals, when we see something wrong like this kid's not blocking out or this kid's not denying, we're about to say something and before one of us gets it out of our mouth, the other says it," Marelle said.

Martin always had strong coaching staffs -- and a lot of talent -- during his state title runs at Norcross. He's got a similar situation now at GAC with good players on Class AA's No. 1 team, as well as an exceptional coaching staff that includes Marelle, who has accomplished plenty on his own as a head coach.

But the veteran coach isn't eager to find a head coaching job at the moment, saying he's content with being an assistant for his good friend. If his health holds up, Marelle may get the six varsity wins he needs one day to reach 400.

If he doesn't, no big deal. He will stay where he is, giving GAC a stacked coaching staff.

"(No. 400) is not that important to me, the milestone for me is being alive," Marelle said. "The victories are nice, but waking up every day is the biggest win. I don't worry about next year. Now I worry about the next day. If I don't get (No. 400), it's no sweat off my back."

Marelle's long cancer fight adds another element to his value at GAC. He has endured some of the worst hardships in life and lived to tell about it.

"Because of what he's been through, he's able to keep things in a little better perspective than a lot of coaches," Martin said. "It's been great having him around. It really has."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.