On the way to every game and on the way home, Missouri State basketball coach Paul Lusk will speak to his father on the telephone.
Win or lose. Tough night or big victory.
“There’s never been a game where he doesn’t call afterward,” said Lusk’s father, former Wesclin High basketball coach Paul Lusk. “He calls going to the arena and then we’ll spend an hour at least talking after the game.”
It’s been that way for years, the tight relationship between father and son built around the game of basketball. On an exciting March evening in 1990, both Lusks got to experience Wesclin’s only state basketball championship as father and son, player and coach with an 83-78 double overtime win over Prairie Central.
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“Winning that state title, being part of that ... that is something that will always be a part of us and a special memory for the rest of our lives,” said the younger Lusk, who recalled riding to school with his father on the Monday following the state championship win. “He and I were driving in and he said ‘Truth is, it was great to win. If you get that far, you want to try winning.’ But I do remember him saying ‘I’d have been satisfied even if we didn’t win.”’
While Lusk’s father remains intensely proud of the state title, he insists he’s never watched a broadcast of the state championship game.
Not on the television, not on YouTube.com or even an old VHS tape.
“Never have, never will,” he said. “I’m a walking contradiction. I taught history forever but I’m not into that kind of history. I’ve never watched it. Me and my boy talk probably every day and sometimes two or three times a day, but over the years we’ve never talked about it.”
The younger Lusk practically was raised in a gym, coming to practices and games as a youngster and befriending the older players and coaches.
“I grew up around all my dad’s players and was around them every day,” the younger Lusk said. “They were the guys I looked up to and they always took me under their wing. When we did win (the state title), that was one of the things I first thought about. It wasn’t just for us, it was for all those former players. Some of those older guys that played before me are my friends to this day.”
Lusk’s former teammate and one of his closest friends, current Wesclin High boys basketball coach Brent Brede, talked about how special the relationship was between father and son.
“With all they went through together — and I know coaching your son is not an easy thing — they made it through and they still have a great relationship today,” Brede said. “It was a very emotional four years for those guys, a lot of good and some bad. I’m proud of the fact of the way they came through it and have remained such good friends.”
Not that the Lusks always saw eye to eye. They were a lot alike and that led to more than a few disagreements over the years.
“It wasn’t easy,” the older Lusk said. “ I know people probably thought I pushed him to play and if anything I pushed him to try to take some days off. He wanted to play from a young age because he was always out there, he was the ball boy and the mascot. He loved the game.”
And he was good at it. The younger Lusk was a four-year starter whose career total of 2,743 points still ranks 14th all-time in Illinois high school basketball history.
He could score inside, outside and everywhere in between. He enjoyed physical play but also had elite skills honed through thousands of hours inside of a gym.
“You’ve got to give a kid like that more freedom than the average kid,” his father said. “How much do you give him ... that’s where we bucked heads so much. He wanted to do his own thing and he had a lot of extra things going on that I didn’t like fundamentally.
“I didn’t expect him to score 30 a game and make no mistakes, but I expected him to play hard, take good shots and do things fundamentally right.”
And if you talk to anyone who ever played for Coach Lusk at Wesclin, they will tell you he stressed fundamentals above all else.
“I sent him home (from practice) probably more than once for maybe a crazy shot or dribbling behind his back or between his legs,” Lusk’s father said. “My wife can tell you there were some wars and all that, but there’s a number of times we’d play on the road and I never rode the bus. I hated the bus.
“No matter how much I chewed him, very seldom did he ever ride the bus home. He always rode with me and his mom. He wasn’t the easiest kid in the world to coach, but he was a great kid. “
Once the younger Lusk was sent home from practice by his father, only to hide around the gym and keep sneaking peeks in at his teammates while they practiced.
“He did walk home from the high school to New Baden, I believe that was the first time he was relieved,” Brede said of his former teammate. “That’s not a short walk, it’s not like it’s right down the block. One time he let everybody know he was leaving by tearing out of the parking lot.”
Now that he’s a coach and father himself, with a son and daughter of his own, the younger Lusk has a much better perspective on the family coach and player dynamic.
“I felt like I put the work in,” the younger Lusk said. “I couldn’t always understand as a young kid why he was being so hard on me, but part of it was pushing me and preparing me to be the best I can be. It was difficult.
“He had his way and he was very disciplined in his approach. He didn’t give players a whole lot of rope and he probably hadn’t had a player like me. He was stubborn, I was stubborn. There were some battles. My mom doesn’t get enough credit because she was right in the middle of it and she always supported me.”
Now 25 years removed from the state championship, the former coach of the Wesclin Warriors said he never really thought about winning a state title.
“To be honest I didn’t think in those terms,” he said. “I was mostly satisfied with how our kids overachieved for years. I never thought because we didn’t go to state that I didn’t get the job done or whatever, that was never my goal. It was having your kids play as hard as they could and whatever happens, happens.
“I was just as happy with maybe an 18- or 19-win season with our kids overachieving as I was with anything.”