Dave Pucka, one of Plum’s own, hired to coach boys basketball team

Wednesday, April 17, 2024 | 6:15 PM

Dave Pucka put his stamp on Plum athletics more than 25 years ago as a standout running back for the Mustangs, and he also was a member of the boys basketball team.

He was Plum’s all-time rushing yards and touchdowns leader from his senior year in 1997 to 2022, when Eryck Moore eclipsed both marks.

Pucka came back to Plum as a teacher 21 years ago and has served in a plethora of coaching capacities from youth to varsity teams in football and basketball at Plum and in nearby districts.

Most recently, he served as the Plum Borough Basketball Organization president, giving back to a community that, he said, has given him so much.

Now, Pucka is ready to take on another venture in the district as the boys basketball coach.

The Plum School Board on Tuesday evening voted to hire Pucka to fill the position left vacant when Justin Walther resigned after two seasons at the helm.

Pucka said he is honored to have been selected to lead the boys program and is ready to go with plans for offseason work.

“The first step is reaching out and forming a foundation with the kids and discussing philosophy, scheduling and things like that,” said Pucka, who served as an assistant coach with the Plum girls team from 2008-11 and again in 2013 and more recently as the boys eighth grade basketball coach and an assistant for the Plum Middle School football team.

“A lot of the kids know me from the community and from school. I have coached a good number of them before, and they are familiar with my system. The rising juniors and seniors, they did not play under me, so it’s a matter of an introduction.”

Pucka said he likes the talent that is coming back and developing in the program and is ready to get to work with them to, hopefully, put them in position for a run at a WPIAL playoff spot.

Plum hasn’t played a WPIAL postseason game since the open playoffs of the covid-affected 2020-21 season.

Before that, the Mustangs hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2015-16 season under former longtime coach Ron Richards.

Plum was 8-14 overall this past season and was winless in Section 2-5A until beating Armstrong, 63-46, in the section finale Feb. 9.

The Mustangs finished the season on a high note with a 55-44 win over WPIAL Class 3A finalist Burrell.

Junior Will Beckner, who led all scorers against Burrell with 23 points on the strength of five 3-point field goals, is returning.

Also eligible to return are junior forward Max Grice, sophomore forward Owen Proskin and junior guard Darian Nelson.

“There’s a lot of talent, and I think we can win,” Pucka said. “We have a good core coming back with that experience and ability to lead the team. I was at a few games last year, and I really liked what I saw with some individual efforts.”

Plum athletic director Drew Karpen said more than a dozen candidates applied to fill the position. Pucka, Karpen said, stood out as the right person for the job.

“We’re extremely excited,” Karpen said. “We were looking forward to starting the process several weeks ago, and it was a thorough process. We interviewed a lot of good, quality candidates. From the start of the process, Dave really impressed us. He’s ready to hit the ground running and wants to get started with players. We are all extremely confident that with this decision, we are moving in the right direction and that Plum (boys) basketball will be in really good shape.”

Pucka, a member of the Plum Sports Hall of Fame, lives in Plum with his wife, Erin, and sons, Hunter and Gavin.

A staple in the Plum youth sports community, he has coached youth football, basketball, flag football and baseball.

“Plum is home. I love this community, and I love the people,” Pucka said. “This is a dream come true. This is not a stepping stone for me. I don’t have aspirations to move on and coach in college or somewhere else at the high school level. For me, this is the end game. My boys are going to come up through the system along with boys I’ve coached from third grade on. My heart is in this program. Me being able to teach and coach here is very humbling.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.


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