Luke Kasubke was born in 2002, but his basketball career started in 1987.
That year, Bret Kasubke enrolled at Quincy University, a small, private liberal arts Catholic school in Quincy, Illinois. He played basketball for Quincy as a “shooting guard who couldn’t shoot,” but he made at least one shot: Michelle Hennen, the small forward for the women’s team.
More than a decade after graduating, the two gave birth to their third child, Luke, who will likely play the same college sport his parents did but at a much bigger university.
The 6-foot-6-inch shooting guard out of Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis is in the midst of his junior year and already entertaining offers from a myriad of major-conference schools, including Missouri, Illinois, Creighton, Xavier and Penn State, among others.
“He dunked on a kid, and I think it was like one of those aha moments for him,” Bret recalled from Luke’s slam before his freshman year. “He got out on the break, got one pass, one dribble, and he said, ‘I guess I’m just going to try this,’ and I think it was eye opening for him. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can actually do this.’”
Now at 16, Luke can finally manage to take down his dad in their heated backyard battles. For years growing up, the two duked it out on the makeshift court behind the Kasubke home. The smaller and less developed Luke was bested until eighth grade when he became too much for his elder.
“I was taller and more mature, and I could also shoot it a lot better, so he had to come out and guard me. Ever since, I’ve been beating him,” Luke explained with a chuckle.
Bret never took it easy on his son, though, even with the obvious maturity mismatch. Not to the point of cruelty or obsessive competitiveness, but there was an endgame there: nothing given, everything earned.
“There’s always somebody out there that’s bigger and better and working harder,” Bret said. “If I would have let him win, I don’t want to say it would have been too easy, but I was challenging him to get better, and maybe there’s a day where he can beat dad or whoever else he’s going up against. It’s not going to be given to him, is how I looked at it.”
Bret helped mold Luke into the prized recruit he is today in formal settings, too. He coached his son from the time he played at the local Y until he entered high school, backing off to let Chaminade’s staff and AAU handle his son’s development. He will still answer any questions his son has to him about the game or his performance the previous night, but he takes a more hands-off approach now to give that space, he said.
Still, some of Luke’s crowning characteristics as a basketball player can be attributed to his father’s teachings, and the essential two will never leave him: effort and attitude.
“Those are the things you can control all the time,” Luke said. “You can’t always control if you’re not knocking down shots or things like that.”
The elder statesman will always make it known when he feels his wisdom hasn’t been upheld.
“If he doesn’t think I played hard after a game or had a bad attitude, he’ll definitely let me know on the ride home,” Luke said.
Effort and attitude extend off the court, too, of course. Luke’s parents have stressed effort in education to their son, and the mini-celebrity status his basketball ability has brought him in his area means he must behave with caution, a valuable lesson for a teenager and one he said the sport taught him.
“I think I had to mature quicker because of all the pressure that can come with being a great player,” Luke said. “You have to watch certain things you post or say and how you treat people, because people will remember how you treat them.”
Luke’s father agreed, explaining that strangers recognizing and commending Luke in public for his play has forced his son to understand his role.
“He’s kind of under the magnifying glass,” Bret said. “I know there’s been numerous times where people have recognized him. We’re not talking about Dennis Rodman or Michael Jordan here, but even having one or two of those people come up and say, ‘I’ve watched you play, I really like how you play, I like how you respect the game, best of luck to you,’ that plants a seed in his mind that there’s people watching me. I have to take responsibility for my actions, because if I step wrong, things are going to be magnified.”
At this point, it seems his parents’ preaching and his talent will propel Luke into major college basketball, and his recruitment is in full swing. The Kasubkes have met with many prominent college coaches aiming to convince Luke their school is the one for him, taking tours, receiving letters and everything else involved with modern day recruiting.
The perspective Luke keeps helps him deal with it all, but his parents are part of it, too. Bret and Michelle often say to one another that they need to pause and appreciate the moment they’re in with their children.
For Bret, someone who has been entrenched in the sport his whole life and comes from a long line of basketball players, it’s a special process to go through.
“Coaches I watched over the years and admired, now I’m sitting down with them and they’re talking about my son, and my son’s sitting there, they’re talking about how my son could help support their success,” Bret said. “It’s a surreal moment. I’m as close to it through my son and him giving us the opportunity not only to experience and appreciate his success, because it’s about him, but to be along for the ride and get personal experiences as a parent, and that’s even before you play a game.”
Bret knows these times are fleeting, and that’s not limited to the recruitment process. Playing basketball is a temporary endeavor, and he’s emphasized that to his son. For every coach who tells Luke how much his program needs him, for every fan who recognizes his efforts and shakes his hand, and for every opportunity basketball provides him, Luke maintains his focus on every chance he’s given to play the game, all at Bret’s behest.
“You never know when that last time you could step on the court is, so he always encourages me to play every game like it’s my last, not take it for granted, and always play my hardest,” Luke said.
Photos shared with Nothing But Nylon by Michelle Kasubke.