By Keith Knepp
AKRON — Joe Luce might have left the bench for a few years, but he never left the gym.
Last month, the veteran basketball coach agreed to pick up the whistle again following a three-year stint as an administrator with the Whitko Career Academy in Larwill, a job that didn’t include leading young men onto the hardwood.
But that certainly didn’t mean Luce wasn’t in the gym. During that hiatus, he had the opportunity to watch his son, Tommy Luce, play basketball at Purdue University. He also kept up with the game at area high schools and colleges, never letting his passion for the game diminish.
“I’m a professional high school basketball coach,” said Luce. “That’s what I’ve done for my career. This is a great opportunity at Tippecanoe Valley and I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from my family.”
Luce grew up in Selma, a rural community in east-central Indiana. As a student-athlete at Wapahani High School, he excelled on the basketball court and the baseball diamond under Hall of Famers Paul Keller and Brian Dudley, respectively. He said Wapahani is a similar community to Tippecanoe Valley, which he believes will help him to easily transition into his new school.
His career began as the freshman coach at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, where he was later promoted to the junior varsity bench. He eventually was named varsity coach at Fountain Central High School in Veedersburg, and later to Benton Central High School, located northwest of Lafayette, which Luce noted is close in size and has a similarily large corporation footprint as Tippecanoe Valley. His success in turning around the Benton Central basketball program earned him recognition as an Indiana District Coach of the Year.
Eventually, he followed his whistle to Marion High School, where he led another rebuild and “won a lot of games,” including leading the team to a semistate title. He then tried his hand at college coaching as an assistant at Ball State University but found that his heart was in the high school gymnasium, not the college arena. Luce soon returned to the prep game, accepting the job at Richmond High School.
Luce eventually moved to Jeffersonville High School, where he coached Tommy during his 2015-16 senior season. After the 2019 season, he hung up his whistle to take the job at Whitko, seemingly leaving behind a storied career as a basketball coach in nearly every corner of the Hoosier state.
As fate would have it, however, Luce struck up a friendship with Blaine Conley, the superintendent of the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation. When the job on the Viking bench became available this spring, Conley reached out to Luce, who was eventually offered the job.
Luce understands he has big shoes to fill, following the legacy of Bill and Chad Patrick. He added he has great respect for the father-son duo, whose family name has become synonymous with Valley basketball.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to coach at Tippecanoe Valley,” he said. “I’m looking forward to building upon what has been happening with Tippecanoe Valley basketball. I want to continue moving the program forward and raising the expectations by engaging the players and earning their trust.”
He and his wife, Karrie, live in Roanoke. She is employed as a nursing assistant at Whitko High School. They are keeping an eye on the local housing market and are hoping to move closer to Tippecanoe Valley in the coming months. Between them they share seven children and three grandchildren.