John Alan Darnell

Former Kemper County High School head basketball coach John Alan Darnell leaps in the air to celebrate with his team after they defeated Forest High School for the MHSAA Class 3A state championship at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson during the 2015-16 season. Darnell was recently hired to lead the Union boys basketball team.

John Alan Darnell listened as Union school officials made their pitches during his June 6 interview for the boys’ basketball position. 

Darnell admits he wasn’t in a hurry to leave his current role as boys’ basketball coach at Lake, but agreed to the interview in order to hear what Union had say.

Union principal Brett Rigby used three words during the early June meeting to describe the Union community to Darnell, and those three words stuck with the coach. 

“The principal said, ‘It’s like Mayberry,’” Darnell, 35, said. “If I was torn then, that may have sold me on it.”

Darnell, a longtime fan of “The Andy Griffith Show,” verbally accepted Union’s offer on June 7, and the Union School Board made his hire official with its June 11 vote.

“I grew up watching Andy Griffith,” Darnell said with a laugh. “I don’t know if it’s like Mayberry, but he said it was, so I have to trust him on that. I’m just looking to come in and hopefully accomplish being a consistent basketball program year in and year out, where when people think of Union boys’ basketball, they think of a team that’s going to play hard and have good character on the court and off the court.” 

In Darnell, Union is getting a state championship-winning coach with nearly a decade of head coaching experience. 

Darnell coached at Enterprise-Clarke from 2007-2012 before a brief hiatus. He resurfaced at Kemper County in 2014 and went 60-29 during his three-year career there, where his Wildcats won the MHSAA Class 3A championship in 2016.

Darnell left Kemper County for Lake following the 2016-17 season and went 4-16 in his one year at the school.

“All I have are nice things to say about Lake,” Darnell said. “I really enjoyed my year there. I know we didn’t have much success in basketball the first year, but I was looking forward to rebuilding the program. I was disappointed having to leave those boys after a year. But with that said, I’m really excited about Union. I feel like we have a really good team coming up this year, and the future going forward is really bright.”

Darnell said he had no plans to leave Lake in the offseason, but the phone call from Union officials piqued his interest. 

“For all intents and purposes, I was going back to Lake,” Darnell said. “Union had called me on the phone, and we talked a little bit on the phone and they asked me to come in for an interview.”

In addition to coaching, Darnell, who still lives in DeKalb, will also serve as Union’s driver’s education and physical education teacher. He’ll also be the beneficiary of a shorter commute to work, which he said will allow him more time to spend with his family. 

“It’s about an 18-minute drive from me… while I was driving 50 minutes to Lake every day,” he said. “That’s a long way for some people, but I’m used to it — I don’t mind driving. But I’ll say this: driving 18 minutes is a lot better.

Union went 14-14 last season under Joshua Luckett, who departed for Northwest Rankin. After two weeks with his new players, Darnell said he’s becoming acclimated to the roster.

“I think our front line will be pretty good,” Darnell said. “We have two decent post players that we can do some things with… We had a senior shooting guard, and I feel like he’s going to have to lead us. He’s going to have to be one of our better players, if not our best player… I like the roster; I think the weakness right now would have to be depth.”

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