Immersed in basketball, Luce returns to coaching at Valley after 3 years away
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
After not coaching since 2019, Joe Luce is back at Tippecanoe Valley, and he has brought his big basketball family with him.
And even though he has not coached since leaving Jeffersonville in 2019, he has been fully immersed in the game.
One should not be surprised.
Growing up in Delaware County, Luce knew he wanted to be a high school basketball coach when he was in junior high. That passion continued as a student at Wapahani High School. He still knew he wanted to be a high school basketball coach when he played baseball at Valparaiso University.
He said he left Jeffersonville and took an administrative job as the director at the start-up of the Whitko Career Academy in Larwill as part of “family considerations.”
That left time to watch basketball as a fan.
His son Tommy, who played for his father at Jeffersonville and later at Purdue, is now a men’s basketball graduate assistant at Purdue. His stepson Mason Slinker is a student assistant on Wes Miller’s staff at the University of Cincinnati. His brother Matt is the boys basketball coach at Wapahani.
In addition to his sons’ college games, he said he took in a lot of Butler and Indiana Pacers games, and he was also attending games on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the high school season. He said he attended two Valley home games during this time.
“I’m a high school basketball coach, and I’ve always considered myself that,” Luce said.
Luce coached at five different high schools from 1999-2019: Fountain Central, Benton Central, Marion, Richmond and Jeffersonville. His career coaching record is 338-145, and he has won six sectionals, three regionals and a semistate.
His teams have won 20 games in a season seven times. He has not had a team finish a season with a losing record since Fountain Central went 10-12 in 2001-02.
Luce said Valley superintendent Blaine Conley contacted him about the opening. Luce said he had not sought any coaching jobs since leaving Jeffersonville, but he said Valley was “the right fit.”
“I was a head coach for 20 years, and I enjoyed that immensely,” Luce said. “Being a boys basketball coach in Indiana and the great programs that I was a part of at Jeffersonville, Richmond, Marion and Benton Central, I was satisfied doing what I was doing as the Whitko Career Academy director. I had stepped away from coaching to follow my son at Purdue. He played there for four years and then is a graduate assistant coach now. I got a chance to do that over the last three years.
“I just by chance had a meeting that I met Blaine Conley, the superintendent,” Luce said. “He asked me if I had interest in the job and told me about Tippecanoe Valley. From there, we met a couple more times, and he sold me on the opportunity. So I’m excited to be back in coaching.”
Luce will also be the dean of students at Valley, a job which he says will involve taking attendance and student discipline.
Luce said Conley is the main reason why he took the Valley job. To get to this point, Luce cited four people as key to his upbringing as a coach.
First, there is Mike Luce, Joe’s father. Mike Luce was the JV coach and varsity assistant at Shenandoah under Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Ray Pavy.
“My dad is probably the most knowledgeable basketball guy that I know and attends nearly all the games that I coach,” Luce said. “If he’s not at my games, he’s at my brother’s games. I can always run stuff off him, and he’s been a big help during my coaching career too.”
Second, there is Paul Keller, who was his high school coach at Wapahani. Keller later moved on to Delta and might be best known to fans in this area as the coach of the 2009 Delta team that lost to Rochester in the Class 3A semistate. Luce remembers him as a man of character.
“I knew I wanted to coach high school basketball from the time I was in junior high, and when I was associated with coach Keller through my four years, it just solidified that that’s what my passion was,” Luce said. “Paul Keller has been probably the biggest influence on my coaching career. He stays in touch with me to this day – an unbelievable high school coach and a better person.”
Third, there is Whitko coach Chris Benedict. Benedict had two previous stints as the boys coach at Columbia City, and during his first stint there, he gave Luce his first assistant coaching job right after he graduated college.
“Chris Benedict is the first guy that hired me, one of my lifetime friends,” Luce said. “He’s been a huge influence on my coaching career.”
Fourth, there is Purdue coach Matt Painter, who, like Luce, grew up in Delaware County. While Luce played at Wapahani, Painter played for rival Delta.
“‘Paint’ and I have been best friends since we were 5 years old,” Luce said. “And we grew up playing basketball together. He went to Purdue, and I went to Valparaiso. We spent a lot of time going back and forth attending each other’s games. And then as he’s gotten into his career and I’ve gotten into high school basketball, we’ve always had a chance to talk a lot of basketball. And I admire what he’s done in his career.”
After a five-year stint as an assistant at Hamilton Southeastern working for Greg Habegger, he got his first head coaching job at Fountain Central.
After going 32-12 in two years at Benton Central, he got the Marion job in 2004, replacing Hall of Fame coach Moe Smedley.
He called getting the Marion job “an unbelievable break,” and he took advantage of it.
The year before Luce arrived, Marion won eight games. In his first year, they won 11. In his second year, they won 15. In his third year, they won 21 games and a regional before losing to East Chicago Central and future Purdue and NBA player E’Twaun Moore in the semistate. And in his fourth year, Marion won 24 games and made it to the Class 4A state finals before a 40-39 loss to Brownsburg on Gordon Hayward’s buzzer beater in the state title game.
He left Marion after another 21-win season and a sectional title in 2009 and took a job as the director of operations at Ball State. But he soon realized he preferred coaching in high school and later took the Richmond job.
In six years at Richmond, he won 117 games there, including a regional in 2015. Then came a four-year run at Jeffersonville, punctuated by a sectional title in 2019.
He said that 10 to 15 of his former players have come to visit and meet his current Valley team since he was hired in June. He calls all of his former players from his previous coaching stops as a “big basketball family.”
“A team that plays the right way,” Luce said when asked for what he wants his teams to be known. “That plays a possession game. Worried about both ends of the floor. Defensively sound. Strong rebounding team. Offensively fast-paced but don’t shoot quick. Take great shots. And most importantly, I want my players when they’re done to feel like they had a chance to become better men and those relationships I have with my players after they graduate is the most meaningful part of my coaching career. I’ve had a lot of great victories I’ve been a part of, lots of great teams, lots of great players. But there’s not many games that I’ve coached that I don’t have somebody in the stands that played for me. During tournament time, my guys come back and talk to the guys I’m coaching at the time.”
He compares the Valley community to the Benton Central school district in that both have lots of small towns that make up a close-knit area that is fervent about sports.
And he’s inheriting a Valley program coming off a 14-10 record last year. Valley returns two all-Three Rivers Conference players in Tayde Kiser and Nolan Cumberland.
“You can’t help but be excited when you have your first team at a new school returning two guys that average 13 points a game,” Luce said. “(Riley) Shepherd averaged 10 a game. They won 14 last year… and definitely have a strong core returning. It’s a good situation to begin with, but we want to make sure – and we have all summer – that we just continue to improve each day.”
Luce said B.J. Walls will return from predecessor Chad Patrick’s staff and be on his coaching staff.
Luce is married to wife Karrie, and he has seven children: Mason Slinker, Tommy Luce, Jake Slinker, Kelsey Luce, Gracey Slinker, Kylee Luce and Alyvia Luce. He also has three grandchildren: Layla Slinker, KyRae Slinker and Ace Slinker.