Their directions in adult life was set years ago, those of Melbourne Head Coach Mike Watson and Conway St. Joseph head man Brent Bruich, and those directions would lead them to a common destination.
Watson, son of legendary Lady Bearkatz Head Coach Wayburn Watson, who guided Melbourne to its only state title (the overall girls' championship in 1973), spent his youthful evenings and weekends in gyms all across Izard County and beyond, watching, playing and learning from his dad.
"He's a good leader and has always been there for me in my life to provide direction and sound advice. Same for my mom, too," Mike Watson said. "If I followed the path my dad set, I always thought I'd be successful. I've always wanted to just be half the man my dad was and is, and not just in the coaching end of it."
Bruich, whose father succumbed to cancer when Brent was 10 years old, took solace in the gymnasium at Conway St. Joseph.
Inside there, Coach Joe Mallet helped shape the budding young coach, giving the reigns of the pee-wee program at the school to Bruich as a teenager.
"He (Mallet) probably got tired of me hanging around -- I was always around," Bruich said. "But Coach Mallet and Coach (Chris) Kordsmeier ... they were like second fathers to me. Coach Mallet let me coach the pee-wee team when I was 16 and I dreamed that someday, this (coaching in the state championship game) is where I would be."
So from their early exposure to the behind-the-scenes world of basketball, it was pretty easy to imagine that both Watson and Bruich would someday end up coaching for the ultimate goal -- a state championship.
But while Watson was in search of Melbourne's first boys' state championship in school history, and Bruich was looking to take St. Joseph to the pinnacle for the first time in a couple of decades, they both probably would agree that they would have preferred the person on the opposite end of the sidelines at Summit Arena in Hot Springs March 13 in the Class 2A title game had been someone else.
For you see, the coaches had something more than just the upbringing of strong men in common -- Watson and Bruich are solid friends and were also classmates at the University of Central Arkansas in the mid-90s.
And as also would be expected, they have the ultimate respect for one another and root for each other -- when they're not playing each other.
Although his squad fell to Bruich's, Watson was quick to offer his props to his friend.
"I want to congratulate St. Joseph and Coach Bruich. I've known him a long time and they've got a fine program and fine tradition," said Watson. "They did a great job ( in the title game)."
According to Watson, the outcome of Melbourne's game with St. Joseph will have no bearing on the relationship between the two 1996 UCA grads.
"No, we weren't rivals then and we aren't now. We've always been friends," he said. "We've stayed in touch (over the years) and call each other for scouting reports and stuff."
Sentiments echoed by Bruich, as well.
"We had classes together at UCA," said Bruich. "So it's bittersweet, you know. You want that person on the other side to be a rival, but I couldn't. He's a great coach, he's a great guy and I know that his dad was a coach up there (at Melbourne), so that makes me disappointed for him, as far as that. But I wish him the best of luck next year. I'm sure he'll get these guys back and he'll win him a state championship. I'm pretty sure of that. He's too good of a coach."
While Watson was not able to bring home a state championship in his first trip to the finals (under his guidance, the Katz had reached the Final Four three other times before this year), the coach and his squad still gave his hometown plenty to be proud of.
One just had to take a quick glance at the sea of red packed inside the brand new Arena at Melbourne in last week's state tournament to see what kind of effect the team had on the community, and the kind of effect the community had on the team. Those red-clad supporters also flocked to Hot Springs in impressive numbers, too.
"We've been feeding off them (home crowds) for a long time now, especially last week in the state tournament," Watson said. "This has been an unbelievable ride for us. It's been a year of firsts for our school and communities. You know, Melbourne and Mount Pleasant came together and we're pretty much a basketball-crazy community and we only fed that monster this year. It was a big year and these guys made it happen for the community and have nothing to be ashamed of. Our community came out in full force and I'd say we had one of the largest contingents down here (Hot Springs) and I'm super-duper proud of them."