BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Tony Dzikas, head coach of the Shenendehowa boys’ basketball team, freely admits the players on his 2015 state title team know little about the only preceding Plainsmen squad to also win a state championship.
“But they know Greg Koubek,” he said, referencing the star player of that 1987 title run for the Plainsmen.
Koubek — Shenendehowa’s all-time leading scorer with 1,972 points — led the Plainsmen to their first state championship. Koubek was named a McDonald’s All-American and Mr. New York Basketball in 1987, and later played in four Final Fours at Duke University and was a captain for the Blue Devils’ national championship team in 1991.
The Koubek legacy is one that local basketball players take part in each summer in Clifton Park as part of the Greg Koubek Basketball Camp, a summertime fixture since the early 1990s. A majority of the members of this year’s Shenendehowa squad have participated at Koubek’s camp, creating a bridge between the 1987 and 2015 squads.
“[Koubek] is around those camps the whole day, walking around and talking to people,” said 2015 senior forward Brandon Fischer.
“I remember when I was younger, . . . I knew [Koubek] was the famous guy who played for Shen and went to Duke, and I looked up to him,” said 2015 sophomore guard Luke Hicks. “Going to his camps, that was the highlight of my summer.”
Koubek’s camp program is set for its 25th edition this summer. He never meant for the camp to become a bridge between yesteryear and today, but that happened organically throughout the past two-plus decades. Dzikas — who just wrapped up his first decade as the Plainsmen’s varsity head coach — serves as a camp director for Koubek and has made it a priority to get his players involved with the camp.
“Tony has done a good job of connecting the present to the past,” said Koubek, who now lives in California. “He’s made sure there is that connection.”
Thomas Huerter — a 2015 senior guard — said Koubek never shows favoritism for the Shenendehowa players at his camp.
“But you can tell he still has a special place in his heart for the Shen guys,” said Huerter. “He never says anything or brags, but you can tell he has a lot of pride in our program — and that’s with or without us winning a state championship.”
Growing up playing travel basketball in Clifton Park, Huerter said Koubek’s 1987 team was viewed as unrivaled.
“Nobody ever came out and said it, but it always seemed like nobody would ever get to that level again,” said Huerter. “I can’t say we’re as good or better than them because I never saw them play, but the fact we’re able to say we accomplished the same thing as them . . . is mind-boggling. It hasn’t set in yet.”
Jim Zullo, the head coach of that 1987 team, now spends his winters in Florida, but made his way to a late-season game against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake to see this year’s Plainsmen. After watching the 2015 Shenendehowa team’s combination of outside skill, inside strength and classy demeanor, Zullo said he was pleased to see the squad collect a state title.
“I think everyone on my team would be thrilled they did it,” he said.
Koubek followed the Plainsmen’s run through media accounts, but could not make it across the country to see them play. However, Brendan O’Sullivan — the other star of the 1987 team, who later played at Dartmouth University — made the trip from his Boston home to see the Plainsmen play in the Federation Tournament of Champions. While Shenendehowa lost that game, O’Sullivan came away impressed with the Plainsmen’s defensive tenacity.
“I just wanted to see them play because I’d read so many good things about them,” he said. “They reminded me a lot of what I went through [in 1987], and I wanted to get a glimpse of it from a different perspective.”
The shared perspective of the 1987 and 2015 Shenendehowa squads, though, is that each group will always remember its run to a state championship. Returning to the area to run his summer camp each summer is not an attempt to “relive” his high school glory days, Koubek said, but being a part of something as special as a state title team has created a lifelong bond between himself and the local basketball community.
This year’s title, he said, will have the same effect on this year’s Plainsmen.
“It’s something they’ll remember forever,” said Koubek. “I’m really happy for them, and proud for our school and community.”