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HAMMOCK: Duluth basketball past and present team up this week

Staff Photo: Will Hammock Current Duluth head boys basketball coach Eddie Hood, left, is running the Wildcats' camp this week with help from former Duluth head coach Joe Marelle. The school's gym is named in honor of Marelle, right, who retired this month as a teacher at Duluth.

Staff Photo: Will Hammock Current Duluth head boys basketball coach Eddie Hood, left, is running the Wildcats' camp this week with help from former Duluth head coach Joe Marelle. The school's gym is named in honor of Marelle, right, who retired this month as a teacher at Duluth.

When Eddie Hood was hired as Duluth's head boys basketball coach last year, he couldn't miss the "Joe Marelle Gymnasium" sign along the high school's main drive.

But he had no idea its namesake was still on campus.

Marelle hadn't coached basketball at Duluth since the early 2000s, when his extended battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia and bladder cancer kept him off the bench briefly. He beat the cancers and returned to coach at Mount Pisgah (where he won state in 2006) and at Greater Atlanta Christian, where he's currently an assistant.

Through it all, Marelle still taught health and physical education at Duluth, where he began working in 1981. He was years removed as a Duluth coach, but was very much still a Duluth teacher.

"As soon as I realized he was in the building, the first thing I did was find him," Hood said. "He's been great. We talk a lot. He's a mentor to me like Ron Bradley was to me (at Newton). I'm just trying to get to where he's been."

Since their initial meeting, the faces of Duluth basketball past and present have talked frequently.

Hood is wise enough to know he has a good source knowledge in Marelle, who has coached basketball longer than the 30-year-old Hood has been alive. The young coach has meshed the two coaches' skills this week for the Duluth Basketball Camp, which has drawn more than 50 boys, up more than 15 from last summer.

Though it's the duo's first camp together, Hood hopes to make it an annual event with Marelle, who retired from teaching this month. The veteran coach agreed to do the camp with Hood on one condition --that it was organized.

"And it's highly organized, there's a script for every day," Marelle said. "He's energetic. His emphasis is to instill pride and reinstall tradition here. He wants what any coach in a community wants. He wants kids to play for their local school and be a Wildcat. And being a Wildcat is a good thing.

"Eddie exemplifies what a new coach should be. He's a hard-worker. He's enthusiastic. He's disciplined. Kids still need to have discipline and understand that your coach cares about you on and off the court. Eddie definitely has that."

That's the neat part of the two coaches' relationship. Marelle is happy to share his knowledge with Hood, but he's more excited that the new coach genuinely cares about Duluth. And there are few people around who care as deeply about that community than Marelle, whose wife Kathy is the city's longtime parks and recreation department director.

Though he officially retired from education this year, Marelle doesn't plan to slow down too much. He wants to spend time with his three children and two young grandchildren, in addition to staying active in basketball.

Wherever his retirement road leads, Marelle will always call Duluth home. And Hood is happy to have him back whenever he's free.

"When I came here 31 years ago, at that time I fell in love with the city of Duluth, the community, the school and the kids here," Marelle said. "Until I die, part of my heart will always be in Duluth. ... My love for the school and my desire to see the school do well has never changed."

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.