True to his humble nature, Central High basketball coach Stan Eagleson downplayed reaching 600 career victories.
"It's a relief," said Eagleson, whose 15-7 squad helped him reach the milestone Friday with a 56-49 Cahokia Conference victory over Freeburg. "I kind of like it better when nobody knows about it and we can talk about when it's over. You prepare for games the same way, whether it's No. 500, 600, 501 or No. 10, so that doesn't really come into play."
Eagleson reached another career pinnacle last season when Central won its first Class 2A state basketball championship. That win capped a phenomenal 124-12 four-year run of dominance, but also prompted the following comment from longtime Central assistant Jeremy Shubert.
"Stan is Central basketball," Shubert said. "You look at a program that's done what we've done in the last 10 years and it takes great players. But it takes a great leader, too -- and Stan's a great leader."
The 56-year-old Eagleson became a head coach a little earlier than he expected. He was the junior varsity coach at Ramsey High School when he got a surprise promotion.
"The head coach quit during the season and I was thrown into it," said Eagleson, 60-35 at Ramsey from 1981-85. "It was just after Christmas and I was 25 years old. It was very tough, I knew almost absolutely nothing about coaching.
"That was my second year as a JV coach and I had to learn on the fly."
Eagleson has trouble remembering much about his first career win back at Ramsey.
"Others have asked me about that and I can't remember who it was or where we played," he said. "I was probably overwhelmed at the time."
Eagleson moved on to Central, where he coached for 12 seasons before the Cougars even won a regional. In an area that produced several state champs and many elite teams -- typically from the same regional Central was in -- that was not surprising.
The Cougars finished fourth in state in 2010 and won the state title last season. Eagleson's record at Central is 601-249 in 27 seasons.
While the odds would seemingly be astronomical against it, Eagleson and Gibault High coach Dennis Rueter had a chance collect their 600th win on the same night earlier this month at the Nashville Invitational Tournament.
Gibault won its semifinal game that night, but Central lost to Teutopolis and Eagleson and the Cougars had to put off the celebration a few more nights.
"That would have been fun," Eagleson said. "It happens when it happens. When Dennis and I were young coaches 25 years ago, I learned a lot from watching his Gibault teams, especially on the defensive end."
Rueter would have enjoyed the double-600 night, too.
"That would have been kind of neat if we had both gotten it the same night," Rueter said. "I was way ahead of him about five or six years ago and he's been catching up pretty quick ever since.
"We've both been around a long time and I really respect him and what he's been able to do."
What does 600 wins mean to Eagleson?
"It's a milestone that means I've done it for a long time," he said. "The fact that I've been able to do it that long is something I'm proud of. You give up a lot when you coach and coaching takes up a lot of time."
Eagleson said a veteran coaching staff has also made his job easier. Dave Thomas has been at Central for one less year than Eagleson, while Kurt Peters and Shubert have been on staff for more than a decade.
Donny Petterson has been on staff for over five years, with Ryan Meyer the only relative newcomer at a couple seasons.
It's been a tough season at times for the defending state champs, who lost several star players to graduation and also have been bothered by injuries.
That hasn't stopped the Cougars from grabbing the top spot in the News-Democrat Class 1A-2A rankings this week.
Central played the Freeburg game without starter Justin Becker (sprained ankle) and Kyler Scheer sat out the fourth quarter with an arm injury.
Junior guard Jacob Timmermann has dealt with leg and back issues in recent games, but Eagleson said Timmermann appears to be rounding back into form.
It's a big week for the Cougars (15-7 overall, 6-1 in league play, who are home for big league games against Carlyle (16-7, 5-1) on Tuesday and Columbia (11-11, 4-1) on Friday.
"Right now our whole focus is on the conference," Eagleson said.
Another home game Saturday finds the Cougars playing rival Mater Dei for the third time this season. The teams split the first two games, with the Knights winning the most recent battle 32-21 at the Nashville Invitational.
Eagleson is nearing retirement, but he said he still hasn't made a final decision on when to step away.
"I haven't, but it's getting closer," he said. "I still enjoy the games and practices and working with the kids. I've been doing it 31 years and when I quit I want to remember enjoying those times."