Bruce Chubick isn’t ready to step off the roller coaster — which this past season became the No. 1 attraction in Nebraska boys basketball — that he’s built at Omaha South.
Although this year’s World-Herald Nebraska high school boys coach of the year — the first from South — suffered a heart attack in February, he didn’t miss a game and led the Packers to their first state title since 1990.
Now he’s preparing to reload for next season around All-Nebraska player Aguek Arop, who’s pledged to Nebraska.
“My health is the real question. My cardiologist thinks I need to be done. My rheumatologist thinks I need to be done. My wife, down deep, probably thinks that, too,” Chubick said between games last week at a summer tournament. “I don’t think I need to be done.
“I want to honor what I told Aguek when he came in, that I’d stay until he graduated. I want to keep going until I can’t.”
The Packers gave Chubick the second state title he had been pursuing since taking West Holt, with older son Bruce, to the Class C-1 championship in 1988.
The next year, the Huskies saw an undefeated season end in districts. His next team to go undefeated in the regular season, at Abraham Lincoln in Council Bluffs in 2000-01, lost in the first round of the Iowa state tournament.
At South, the Packers lost state finals to Omaha Central’s undefeated team in 2012 and to Omaha Creighton Prep in 2015.
The Prep loss didn’t go away for a long time.
“There wasn’t a day when we didn’t meet and discuss how we fell short the year before. It stuck with them,” Chubick said. “Some after we won said it’s great winning, but we should have had two.
“I said a lot would have given anything for just one.”
South was a wire-to-wire No. 1 team. Its only loss on a 28-1 record was to Aurora Overland, who repeated as Colorado’s big-school champion.
“The further we went into the season, the bigger the target,” Chubick said. “You lose to one of those teams and it makes their season. There was a lot of pressure in some ways, but it bothered the coach, I think, more than them.”
South’s best defensive game was a 54-33 domination of Prep for the Metro Conference holiday tournament title, the first time the teams met since the 2015 final. The Packers’ offense hit its peak in a 76-60 win in a packed gym at Papillion-La Vista on a Tuesday night in late January. Arop and Karlon McSpadden combined for 56 points.
South beat the Monarchs again at state in the semifinals, then took control of the state final in the second half for a 59-50 victory over Fremont.
“Those kids we had were really special, and I’m finding that out right now with a new group,” Chubick said. “It wasn’t that they were so skilled, but they were so smart on and off the court. Once in the state tournament, I threw out a new inbounds play and they came out and ran it like they had ran it 100 times before.
“The chemistry was really good. The kids liked each other and I looked forward to going to the gym every day and seeing them.”
Thus it fulfilled the vision that began in the principal’s office at South, when Chubick interviewed in 2005 with the school principal and athletic director at the time, Nancy Faber and Chuck Walker, respectively.
It seemed a gamble to hire someone who, at 53, had just returned to coaching the year before at Glenwood, Iowa, after kidney cancer.
“Even though some said you need a younger coach, I didn’t need a younger coach. We needed Bruce,” Faber said. “I wanted to get the best coach I could possibly get. I didn’t know much about him, but we hit it right off. He said, ‘Mrs. Faber, we’ll work together. You want a winning team and I can do that.’
“As we sat there, we envisioned South being strong again.”
A winning season didn’t come until the fifth year. Since then, the Packers have been district champions and state qualifiers every year.
“Nobody thought South would ever win another state title and in a remarkably short period of time,” said Kevin Harkins, who played for Chubick on the first four teams that made state.
“I think he’s an excellent coach, one of my favorites to play for. He has a real knowledge of the game and has the ability to adapt to different players and situations. I think the absolute world of him.”
Harkins, now at Hastings College, said he saw Chubick moderate his approach through his years.
“My first two years, it was more of the old-school mentality,” he said. “But as we started to get guys like Monté McGary, Karlon and Aguek, he saw they responded better to talking with them rather than at them.”
Chubick said he might not be in coaching without influences like Joe Yambor, who was his physical education teacher at Bloomer Junior High in Council Bluffs; Ron Clinton at Southwestern Community College in Creston; and NAIA Hall of Famer Ray Nacke at Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa.
“Ron Clinton, ‘The Fox,’ at Creston, he had a great life, coaching a bunch of college guys,” Chubick said. “That probably was the most fun of my playing days. He let us help make up game plans, and I guess that set the tone for me.”
Chubick went to Southwestern from Abraham Lincoln, where he led the Metro in scoring as a senior. He then signed with Bob Hanson at UNO, but circumstances led him to switch to Briar Cliff before the next season.
“I was married and we just had Bruce,” Chubick said, referring to his older son. “UNO was in the Rocky Mountain Conference and was limited in what they could offer. That entered into it. Briar Cliff, it took care of us. You probably couldn’t do some of those things anymore.”
He shares his roller coaster seat with Dianne, his wife of 46 years. “The calming force. She’s the polar opposite of me,” he said.
Dianne has been there for the whole ride. Their story is widely known. His promising coaching start at Omaha Tech. Their son Joey’s cancer fight at age 2. The family’s move to the Montana wilderness. His return to Nebraska and coaching at West Holt, the first of the five downtrodden programs he returned to respectability — and beyond for most. His health issues.
“She talks me off the edge. She’s very compassionate and caring,” Chubick said. “It’s been 46 years of marriage, and the only games of mine she’s missed were when Bruce was at Nebraska.”
In residential construction, builders put up a model home and never live there. Chubick is the one who built it, stayed in it and planted perennials around it.
“My friends tell me I’m afraid to take an established program and run with it,” he said. “I’ve always been a builder. It’s always fun to see a program go from obscurity and from irrelevance to relevancy. Most of the jobs it’s been, ‘It’s built, let’s move on.’ South is the only one, once we got established, we stayed.”
Chubick, who turns 65 early this summer, has a few more rides in mind when retirement beckons. With a second state title secured, travel in a new motor home now tops his bucket list.
“There’s a lot of places we’ve never seen, and it’s the motivation for buying the motor home,” he said. “We want to take a year when I’m not coaching and basically not come back. Of course, we’ll still touch base here, and there’s things we’ll need to do for Joey.”
But there’s at least one more chapter to his career before he turns over the Packers and puts the key in a new ignition.
“I’ve been pretty lucky. It’s like the line from ‘Braveheart’ when William Wallace says, ‘Every man dies. Not every man really lives,’ ” Chubick said. “I have. I have gotten my money’s worth.”
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