When looking back at the nearly 20 years I’ve spent covering Kokomo-area high school boys basketball for the Tribune, I put the Class of 2003 at the top of the list when it comes to depth of talent.
I often think of that class when a talented new crop comes along. The 2003 group set the bar high.
I found myself thinking of that class again Sunday night, but for an entirely different and sadder reason. Craig Shuck, one of the members of that class, died after a lengthy battle with melanoma.
Shuck was just 29. He should have been in the prime of his life. But cancer, as we all know, is a cruel opponent.
Shuck played at Northwestern. He later found a way to remain involved in the sport as a coach, working at Brownsburg. He was a varsity assistant for the Bulldogs when they won the 2008 Class 4A state championship.
Julian Mavunga, one of the stars of that team, offered a touching tribute to Shuck via Instagram and Twitter on Sunday night.
“ ... He was a hooper, a coach, an inspiration, a son, a fighter, and a great person,” Mavunga wrote. “This guy held on twice as long as doctors thought he would and the last time I visited him and saw him he showed me that I had a lot to be thankful for. Because even [though] he was sitting in a living room dying and he knew it, he seemed as if he was going to live forever. May God be with his family and may he rest in peace! #ShuckStrong”
Shuck was a talented point guard for Northwestern. He was a two-time KT All-Area player, averaging 15.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2 steals per game in his junior campaign and 18.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals as a senior.
Shuck always had the ability to attack a defense with dribble penetration. He added a mid-range game and a jumper over the course of his Tiger career. As a senior, he had a 38-point game against Carroll and a 33-point game against Hamilton Heights.
That 2003 class was fun to watch. Northwestern had Shuck leading its charge. Western had guards Josh Nelson and Alan Davidson, who rank 1-2 on the Panthers’ career scoring list. Kokomo had guard Matt Bell, who was one of the top players in the rugged North Central Conference. Lewis Cass had guard Beau Bauer, who was an Indiana All-Star pick after leading the Kings to a 26-0 record and the Class 2A state title. Taylor had forward Drew Conner, who ranks No. 1 in Titan history in scoring and also rebounding. And Carroll (forward John Lane) and Hamilton Heights (guard Billy Bowen) had talented seniors leading the way as well.
Shuck also was part of a great line of Northwestern point guards that spanned more than 10 years, starting with 2000 Indiana All-Star Austin Parkinson. Shuck played with Parkinson for one year, then ran the show the next three years. From there, Josh Maggard and Kylan Dubbels took their turns running the show. The Tigers seemingly had a good floor general every year.
Former Kokomo standout Brandon Wood, who is playing professionally overseas, noted Monday on Twitter that Parkinson and Shuck were big parts of his motivation to start taking basketball seriously.
I remember talking to Shuck after Brownsburg won the 2008 Class 4A championship. He was thankful to Brownburg coach Josh Kendrick (a former Kokomo assistant) for giving him a shot and thankful to his parents for their support. He had made the decision to follow his parents and a grandmother into the teaching profession. His excitement was palpable.
Brownsburg, with Gordon Heyward and Mavunga forming a terrific 1-2 punch, had a thrilling tournament run. The Bulldogs beat Ben Davis, Indianapolis Pike and Decatur Central in the sectional round, North Central and No. 5 Carmel in the regional, No. 1 New Albany in a one-game semistate and No. 8 Marion in the state title game. Brownsburg beat Marion 40-39 on Hayward’s last-second shot.
I’ll always remember seeing Shuck in the thick of the celebration.
“Obviously, growing up playing basketball, your dream is always to win a state championship. I never got one as a player, but this one is pretty nice,” Shuck told me in 2008.
Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune’s sports editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-454-8567.