MUNSTER | Diana Ostoich was looking through a dusty box of memories last week. It was a nervous week as the Munster Mustangs were preparing for a very difficult draw in the Class 4A West Side Sectional.
Ostoich's son, Adam, is a sophomore on the Mustangs team.
She found a roster from the 1974 Hammond Sectional, where her husband Tom had played for Morton. The dates of that sectional were the same as the event in Gary — Feb. 27, March 1 and 2.
Tom wore No. 12 for the Governors. Adam wears No. 12 for the Mustangs.
That's when the tears began to form in Diana's eyes. It was a painful memory at first, followed by an explosion of joy.
Tom Ostoich died 10 years ago from brain cancer. His son, and nephew Luke Wuchenich, are carrying on the Serbian family's roots on the floor and in life.
"We think it's so cool the cousins are playing together," Diana said. "Tom was 45 when he died, Adam was seven. This is so emotional. It's changed who my boys are. It's changed their lives."
Tom was diagnosed in January of 2003 and passed away in July. That's how quick is happened. Adam does not remember much about his father, who was a member of Morton's lone sectional championship team in 1976.
"I really can't remember much about my dad, I was so young," Adam said. "I remember us wrestling. I remember him getting sick."
"I remember when his head was bald," said Luke of his uncle. "I remember him driving a green car, but not much else."
Adam had to call 9-1-1 on the Orthodox Easter when his father was ailing.
Janie Wuchenich and her husband, John, have opened their arms to the Ostoichs. The death of her brother a decade ago still stings. But Adam is welcome in the Wuchenich's home at all times.
"We almost claim Adam as an IRS deduction," Janie said.
John stepped in right away and the boys started hooping it up in the Serbian National Federation Basketball leagues. Their love for each other and their heritage has filled their lives.
"I have three Vlade Divac signed basketballs," Luke said.
"I have four," Adam said. "I also have a million pictures of Peja Stojakovic, too."
John Wuchenich, a native of Pittsburgh, told Adam and his brother Alex one thing after Tom's death. Then, he did his best to keep his brother-in-law's dreams alive.
"You only have one father, Tommy's your father," John Wuchenich said. "But I will do everything I can to help."
His son is a junior sharpshooter for the Mustangs, who play Merrillville in today's Class 4A Michigan City Regional. Adam is more athletic, more of a sophomore scrapper. He had three huge steals in the second half against Lake Central in Saturday's sectional final.
Munster coach Mike Hackett has known this extended family since he arrived in Munster 13 years ago.
"I know their story and situation," Hackett said. "It didn't hit me until sectionals when I heard about the dates and his number being the same. When you see all that you have to wonder if someone might be looking down, helping us a little bit."
Munster has set a school record with 163 3-pointers this season. Wuchenich has hit 44 of them. This will be one of many factors in today's outcome.
"There are no secrets in this game," Hackett said. "We know what they do and they know what we do. It will come down to who dictates the pace of the game."
With one championship down, Munster's cousins want another one, knowing, again, it will be very tough.
"It's great that we're playing together on the state's No. 1 team," Luke said. "This season has been so exciting. We want to keep it going."
"It's been awesome," Adam added. "To be a sophomore and playing in games this big. Who would have thought that eight years ago when we were playing football in our backyard that we'd end up on the same sectional team?"
All those in the family would agree. Tom Ostoich isn't surprised at all.
"I know he's looking down," Diana said. "I know he's proud of the boys."