Iowa's Nunge Rekindles Memories Of A Potsdam Star, His Dad
BY DAVE SHEA
From his Rhode Island home, Potsdam's Central's retired New York State Hall of Fame Boys Basketball Coach Steve Kmack watched with a "tear in his eye and a smile on his face" as the third ranked University of Iowa downed number 16 North Carolina 93-80 in the ACC/Big 10 Men's Basketball Challenge on Tuesday.
Led by seven 3-pointers and 24 points from Jordan Bohannon, the 4-0 Hawkeyes buried 17 3s showcasing their multi perimeter threats around the inside presence of All-American Luke Garza.
But Kmack's attention was focused on one of Iowa Coach Fran McCaffrey's stalwart role players in 6-11, 245-pound red-shirt sophomore center Jack Nunge who scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and passed out two assists. Jack Nunge is one of the five children of Beth Nunge and Potsdam Central great Dr. Mark Nunge, who unexpectedly passed away in his sleep at age 53 on Friday at his home in Newburg, Indiana.
"It was a total shock. Mark was an avid runner and very fit I was told. I was devastated. I still get up in the middle of the night and walk around the house because I can't sleep," said Coach Kmack.
"I just keep saying to myself how could this happen. I guess God just works in strange ways."
While Jack Nunge helped the Hawkeyes pass the eye test to a national television audience, he brought Coach Kmack emotional memories of his father who enjoyed exceptional basketball careers at Potsdam Central (1985 graduate) and the University of Rochester where he was honored as the college's Outstanding Male Athlete as a senior and played a key role in the ground work which would produce a national championship the year after he graduated.
"When I took over at Potsdam, Mark Nunge was the first guy I talked to. Potsdam did not win a game the year before and had lost 31 games in a row. I told Mark that if we were going to do something we had to start now with open gyms. He was ready to do it," said Coach Kmack looking back at what would become the start of a sustained era of excellence for Sandstoner Basketball in a Central Division which was consistently strong from top to bottom.
"Mark was 6-6 and Scott Manski was 6-4 and we ran the high-low offense that Jerry Welsh ran at Potsdam State. They were very skilled, they could handle the ball, they were both left handed and they could both step out and hit jump shots which was unusual for big men at that time. We had an outstanding team and they were our captains, I think they are as a good tandem that I have seen in Section 10. In my first year we went 14-8 and the following year we went 18-2 to win the Central Division and won Potsdam's first regular season title in 47 years. Mark was the league MVP which was an outstanding honor because there was great parity at the time and every game was a battle."
Coach Kmack will never forget the climax of the game at Tupper Lake where the Sandstoners came from behind and won in the closing seconds on a 17-foot jumper by Nunge to clinch the title.
"Mark was an outstanding player with an impeccable work ethic and he was dedicated to basketball. He played with controlled intensity and he was a coach's dream. He personified what a student-athlete should be and he was great with the younger kids and helped a lot of them develop into outstanding players," said Coach Kmack.
"John Beilein was coaching at LeMoyne at that time and he was very interested in Mark but Mark decided to go to Rochester. I had a special bond with Mark and I miss him a lot. He is the first member of my Potsdam Basketball Family to pass away and it came at such a young age. I have talked to other players on the team since he passed away and they are all deeply saddened."
Coach Kmack's sadness is cushioned by watching Jack Nunge play for the Iowa Hawkeyes who in the early stages of the COVID-19 compromised season have played their way into circle of potential national champions.
"Jack Nunge is bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than his father and he plays just like Mark. And he comes from an outstanding family. Two of his sisters are Division I volleyball players," says Coach Kmack.
"I like to watch players play off the ball and Jack does that so well just like his dad did. He really understands the game and he can do it all. It must be so tough on him losing his dad and I am sure that Mark is very proud of him. I don't know very much about computers but I am going to figure out how to get the stream of all of Iowa's games. They can definitely win the national championship."