How do legends become legends?
In the case of the 1988 Greencastle boys' basketball team, it entailed winning ball games when it counted and hoisting a small town, just dealt a devastating blow, on their backs to enjoy the ride.
Tonight, members of that 1988 regional championship Tiger Cubs team will be honored during the GHS and Monrovia game.
In the late 1980s, the city of Greencastle was still coming to terms with the loss of IBM and the worries of an uncertain future. In the winter of that same year a Greencastle squad took the court in hopes of defending its West Central Conference title and embarked on a journey that would end two steps short from a state title.
The Tiger Cubs began the season in impressive fashion, capturing the Putnam County Championship, but the success was short lived.
"We started out the year, the county classic was our first two ball games, and that's how we opened our season," former GHS head coach Doug Miller said. "We defended our title there, so we got off to a great start by defending our title in the county. The way the season went was we did extremely well in the county and conference and in the non-conference we struggled. Following the county we lost four straight."
Even from the get-go, the Tiger Cubs were on the cusp of greatness, losing their four straight games by a total of just 14 points. Greencastle faltered in its non-conference games, but excelled in WCC play.
As February began, a game loomed on the horizon that would define the Tiger Cubs season and possibly become the most impressive game ever played by a GHS team.
The season had proved to be an up and down endeavor with the team still searching for its identity, as the calendar flipped to Feb. 20.
The Undedication Game was a contest that was to be the last game to be held in the old downtown gym. A gymnasium in its twilight, organizers decided to have one last blowout to send the gym off in fitting fashion -- and a blowout is just what they got.
The GHS team took the court and proceeded to put on a show for the capacity crowd sandwiched into the gym. Where the junior varsity squad squeaked by Riverton Parke, the varsity hoopsters dominated every aspect of the game and when the final horn sounded, had put together a performance for the ages. Greencastle dispatched Riverton Parke 106-54 and came to the realization their best basketball was yet to come
"We went into what really I think to this day was the impetus that propelled us into the tournament series -- the Undedication Game," Miller commented. "We were 10-8 going into that game. We had won the county, we won the conference outright, but we were still struggling with the non-conference people.
"I've said many times that there was probably, I felt personally, more pressure on myself to win that game than any game I ever coached at Greencastle -- and I was there 14 years, because of the rich tradition of that gymnasium. When we won that game 106-54; that really propelled us. It really built some momentum for us," Miller said.
"I think the point where it sunk in with everybody that, 'Hey, we've got some pretty good pieces here", is when we played the Undedication Game in the old downtown gym," former GHS standout Brett Hecko said. "That was just a remarkable experience. And to beat a team that was an OK basketball team by 50 points in front of that crowd was pretty amazing and I think that springboarded us into sectional."
The Tiger Cubs ended the regular season with a record of 12-8 and faced a powerful Rockville squad, led by Jody Gooch, in the first round of section.
"Rockville was really good. They had only lost a couple of games and they had been ranked all season. They were the favorite by everybody to win the sectional. Then we had a remarkable win against them when we won on a last second basket to send it to overtime. Then we ended up beating them in overtime," Hecko said.
Greencastle defeated South Putnam for the sectional title after a brief delay. Midway through the second quarter, the Eagles literally shot the light out. South Putnam led by 13 points at the time but when the lights came back on, it was GHS. The Tiger Cubs went on a 16-0 run to close out the half to take a three point led. The Tiger Cubs never looked back.
"From there, we were not going to be denied," Miller said.
After capturing the first sectional title in 19 years, the Tiger Cubs did what every basketball championship team does -- they went swimming.
"It was such a huge monkey off our backs -- we all went swimming. We went into the McAnally pool, dressed down and went nuts. It was just a special moment," Hecko recalled.
Greencastle stormed into the regional and defeated Northview in the first round and faced a shocking regional final opponent in Shakamak.
"When that happened, once again we felt like there was no way we weren't going to take care of business in the nightcap. Then we drew Evansville Central in the state championship tournament series," Miller observed.
After battling Evansville Central the entire game, the Tiger Cubs again found themselves in overtime.
With shooters like Hecko and Chad Remsburg, few people thought Greencastle's fate would land in the hands of senior guard Brad Vanbibber.
After Remsburg sent the game into overtime, it was Vanbibber with 31 seconds left that drained a three and then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and was fouled as he scored putting the Tiger Cubs up for good.
The only thing standing between the Tiger Cubs and a trip to the Final Four was sophomore Damon Bailey from Bedford North Lawrence. Greencastle had faced some formidable foes throughout the season, but nothing like Bailey.
"Bedford and (Damon) Bailey were just so much better than anyone else we had," Hecko said.
The Tiger Cubs held close to the Stars for three quarters but the Stars pulled away in the fourth to send the Tiger Cubs packing.
"We hung with them for three quarters and then he proved why he was so good. He just took his game to the next step and none of us could match him," Hecko said.
Looking back at the 1988 season, Hecko and Miller shared some of their memories and seemed to have little regrets.
"Actually the last month was one moment. From the Undedication Game, every one of those wins over Rockville, South Putnam, Northview and Shakamak. There isn't any single one I could say was any more of a highlight than the other. I lump them all together as just one tremendously happy memory," Miller commented.
"People were just so into it and I think that is as special as anything," Hecko recalled. "Not even so much of a basketball thing but as a town standpoint, the town was struggling a little bit; that was right, as IBM had left. So it was neat to see such a small town lifted up by a bunch of high school kids.
A small town school standing tall among giants and refusing to be denied -- that's how kids become legends.
Stay tuned to the BannerGraphic Sports section in the upcoming weeks for more moments from Greencastle's 1988 Semi-State run.