There are many reasons why the McCracken County boys basketball team’s 2021 season could be described as special. For one, qualifying for the state tournament and winning a game there like the Mustangs did is no small feat. For brothers Ian and Jack McCune, the season — likely their last ever sharing the court together — was a memorable one.
“It’s been pretty special,” Jack said of this season.
Jack, a sophomore, and Ian, a senior, both spoke with The Sun last week prior to departing for Lexington to play in the Sweet 16. Ian said he couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to close out his high school career than to be playing in Rupp Arena. And to do so with his brother? Even better.
“It’s awesome because we dreamed of this since we were little kids to play basketball with each other, and we get to go to the state tournament together in my last year, which is really special,” he said.
It’s certainly been a year to savor, Jack added.
“This year is probably going to be my most memorable year of high school, especially with us going to the state tournament,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of being out there on the court with him (Ian).”
As a fixture of the Mustangs’ starting lineup this season, Ian averaged 10.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, while Jack, a key reserve, posted 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest and shot 63% from the field.
And they continued to stuff the stat sheet in Lexington. They combined for 15 points, three rebounds, four assists, seven blocks and seven steals in the Mustangs’ 68-56 opening-round win over Bullitt East and went for 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and one block in the 63-53 quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Highlands.
Mustangs head coach Burlin Brower couldn’t speak more highly of both players and their on-court skills. He highlighted Ian’s passing abilities and competitiveness.
“Ian is such an athlete — he could score a lot more points if he was somewhere else. And he’s a great passer,” Brower said of the First Region Tournament MVP. “We love getting him the ball and letting him create — he does a great job with kick-outs, and he’s also real good at dropping the ball off right behind the defense for an easy bucket. He’s a competitor — he’s going to take charges, and he’s the first guy to get on the floor for loose balls. He’s a true blue-collar player.”
As for Jack, Brower described him as “one of the up-and-coming stars” in the First Region.
“He blocks a lot of shots, and he’s just so good around the rim,” he said of the younger McCune. “Our guys do a really good job of getting him the ball where he can be successful.”
Brower described Jack as “a big part” of the team’s success this season thanks to his production off the bench.
“If some of our starters aren’t playing well, we run Jack and Max Blackwell in there, and we don’t miss a beat,” he said. “Those guys come in and fill those spots, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve won so many games.”
Nearly identical in height — Ian is 6-foot-3 while Jack is 6-foot-4 — the brothers share similar on-court skills. Not relied upon to be primary scorers, they utilize their skill sets in other areas — rebounding, defending, diving for loose balls and making other hustle plays — critical to winning games. Jack said he has tried to model his game after that of his older brother. Specifically, he’s tried to incorporate Ian’s spin moves and strong defensive play.
“He’s inspired me a lot. I reflect my game off of him,” he said of Ian.
With Ian signed to continue his basketball career at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Jack certainly has a good role model and mentor as he pursues his own goal of playing collegiate basketball. He added that Ian has always been supportive, describing he and Ian as “best friends.”
Ian said Jack is just as supportive of him, calling the brothers’ relationship “special.”
“He’s always been in my corner everywhere we go, so our relationship has been really special ever since we were little kids,” he said.
Ian likes to give his younger brother some motivational nudges every now and again, but it’s all in the interest of improvement.
“Sometimes I make him a little mad and make him go a little harder, but a lot of times I’m just giving him tips because I’ve been doing this for a long time. I just want to help him be a better player,” Ian said. “I try to be the best role model I can be on and off the court with attitude and grades and staying after practice and shooting and doing all the little things to be successful.”
Those lessons have paid off, Brower said.
“Ian has made Jack better. Both those guys are really good. Every time I open the gym, they’re in there, and they’re both very competitive,” he said. “They block a lot of shots and take a lot of charges and do a lot of the blue-collar stuff.”
Jack said it was Ian who first got him interested in playing basketball. The younger McCune was more into baseball when he was younger but enjoyed watching Ian’s travel ball games.
Ian, who started playing basketball when he was about 4 years old, said it’s been “a lot of fun” watching his brother progress through the ranks of the sport to be in the position he’s in today. They’ve certainly enjoyed sharing the court together, displaying an in-game chemistry befitting of siblings.
“We know each other’s next move every single time we do something,” Ian said.
As for when they’re not on the court at the same time, they’re a favorite to be substituted for one another.
“If Ian makes a mistake, I can tell Jack, ‘Go get your brother. Get him out,’ ” Brower said with a laugh. “I always kid them and say, ‘At least I’m not making your parents mad by taking one of you out, because I’m putting the other one in.’ ”
That won’t be a possibility next season, as Ian will be starting the next chapter of his life at Mount St. Joseph, where he’ll be studying sports management while playing basketball for the Lions. Jack said it would “be a little different” and “a little bit lonely” without his older brother around, as they have no other siblings.
Reflecting on his career as a Mustang, Ian said he couldn’t have dreamed of it going much better, adding that he hopes to have left a lasting impression on Jack and the rest of his teammates.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of successful years with this team, and I’m just blessed to be a part of it with great teammates and coaches,” he said. “I hope to leave a lasting impression that working hard will get you a lot of things.”
As for the future of the Mustang basketball team, Brower loves the fact that he’ll still have a McCune on the roster for two more years. He envisions a bright future for Jack.
“Jack is a presence down low, and he’s such a good rebounder. If he played the minutes that some of the other guys played right now, he might be our leading rebounder,” Brower said. “He’s got some things he has to work on in the offseason, but I don’t feel like we’ll miss a beat next year. He’ll be ready to play. He’s got an opportunity to be one of the mainstays here at McCracken over the next two years.”
And you can bet parents Stacy and Rob McCune will be in the stands cheering on Jack and the Mustangs, as they’re both “diehard McCracken people,” Brower said.
But it won’t be the same without Ian, making this past season one to savor for the McCune family.
“We have watched them play countless hours in the driveway since they were old enough to dribble a ball,” Rob and Stacy McCune told The Sun via email. “They have always been each other’s biggest fans, and it showed with the way they encouraged and celebrated with each other on the court.
“We got to watch the boys we love the most play the game they love together. It was every parent’s dream.”