MACON – Rob Beucler’s first game as the Eastern Brown boys’ basketball coach was Dec. 2, 1995, at Western Brown.

Garyn Purdy, the Warriors top returning player and a senior this year, was born on June 15, 1999.

Purdy and the rest of the Warriors have never known anybody but Beucler to lead the team, and entering his 23rd season as head coach, expectations are high as Eastern was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Southern Hills Athletic Conference.

Eastern finished a 13-11 season – Beucler’s 22nd season – with a 62-40 loss to Piketon in the sectional finals. Purdy averaged 12.7 points last year, the second most on the team, and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds.

“Just seeing him [Beucler] like, ‘Wow, he’s the coach. I want him coaching me. I want him criticizing me and telling me what I’m doing wrong,’” said Purdy. “I just looked forward to that and for him to make me better. I always looked up to him.”

Beucler began his career as the Warriors’ head coach during the 1995-1996 season, but his entire coaching career began on the girls’ side nearly four decades ago.

“I had been here long before that,” said Beucler. “I grew up here. I played here. I started coaching with the girls’ program because Coach [Jerry] Lewis wanted me to take over coaching his daughter, so I coached her for two years, then I came up to the high school and worked under him for I think – well ’78 and ’79 was my first year with the girls, and then ’80 and ’81, so this is number 38 or 39.”

Entering this season, Beucler had a 338-166 record over 22 years. He’s had 17 winning seasons during that stretch, with the best finish coming in 2002, when Eastern made it to the Division III state semifinals before falling to Columbus Bishop Ready, 80-62. The Warriors went 24-2 that season and were led by Beucler’s son, R.J., who finished his career with 1,201 points. Eastern went 24-1 in the 1999-2000 season, but fell in the regional finals.

He’s coached several other star players, including 1,000 point scorers in Chase Lawson (1,126 points), Kyle Stout (1,128 points), Nathan Scott (1,156 points), Tyler Knabb (1,222 points) and another son, Brett Beucler (1,504 points).

“We’ve had some good players and that’s what I tell them – those kids didn’t like to lose. They were willing to do what it took to be successful and they bought in with it. They could have been selfish and they weren’t. They put the team first,” said Beucler. “Of course they also had to lead us with what their performance was, but they did both.”

His first top player was 6-foot senior guard Christopher Burrows, who grew up around Beucler because his parents were teachers and were involved with basketball.

“Rob was in control. You knew he was in control. He’s just the kind of man you love to play for,” said Burrows. “One of his core values was to develop you as young men. I can speak now that I’m 40 and in a position of leadership that the leadership lessons he gave to us on how to be young men and survive in the world far outweigh anything he did as a basketball coach.”

Burrows is now the superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village Schools. He’s one of many people that have been in the gym around Beucler now in a leadership position.

Another can be found on Kiser Court when the Lady Warriors play.

Kevin Pickerill, who is in his fourth year as the girls’ coach, was an assistant fresh out of high school on Beucler’s first team.

“I graduated on May 31st and took over freshman boys' on June 1st and I think I went to my first shoot out on June 5th. I went through college and tried to do college and balance basketball schedules all the way through,” said Pickerill. “I spent 19 years with a guy I respect to no level. It’s unbelievable my respect for what he’s done for me as a coach and as an individual.”

Pickerill went 63-14 in his first three seasons with the Lady Warriors, which included a trip to Columbus for the Final Four last March. He and Burrows agree it’s the work ethic Beucler taught that have led to their success.

“Most of all, I think he’s taught me that you can’t expect the best if you ain’t working,” said Pickerill. “You can’t expect the most if you’re not getting the most out of yourself.”

Pickerill, who’s been coached by Beucler and coached with Beucler, believes that, even though he’s still in command, he’s gotten more patient as he’s gotten older.

“I have seen him change. He has backed off a little bit, but he still gets the most out of them,” said Pickerill. “He just went a different way about getting it.”

Burrows still tries to see the Warriors when they play Georgetown and has also seen the change in his former coach.

“Rob and I have had that conversation. His tag line he says is, ‘Burrows, I can’t coach these kids like I coached you. If I did I’d probably be fired,’” said Burrows. “I think that’s one of the attributes to his success. He’s willing to change.”

Despite the changes, the bar remains high. The Warriors started the season 1-1 with a 60-54 loss to Hillsboro and a 68-56 win against Batavia. The team enters SHAC play on Friday against North Adams after being picked before the season as the conference favorite.

But whether the Warriors win the SHAC or not, or make a deep postseason run or lose in the first round, Beucler won’t know if he’s had success with this year’s team for about another 23 years.

“I enjoy the game, I enjoy seeing the kids get better and it’s like somebody said, ‘You won’t know if you’ve been successful with kids until 20 years down the road.’ John Wooden said that. He said, ‘I’ll tell you if I’m successful if I see what they’re doing as adults.’ There’s more to it than just basketball,” said Beucler. “It’s life.”