By Dustin Dopirak
Even during his days at Indiana, Steve Bouchie was known for being quiet and keeping to himself. The 6-foot-8 forward and 1979 Indiana Mr. Basketball from Washington High School didn’t say much during practice, and he was a married man and a father for much of his college career so he didn’t make much noise away from Assembly Hall either.
But his teammates still considered him a man not to mess with.
“He’s just such a big powerful guy,” said two-time All-Big Ten forward Ted Kitchel. “He didn’t have a temper. He never got upset. But you never wanted to see what might happen if he did have a temper.”
That reverence to Bouchie from his high school and college teammates added to the shock of his passing. He suffered a massive heart attack on July 4 and battled until Sunday, when he died at the age of 59. Visitation will be from 1-5 p.m. Thursday at Bethany Christian Church in Washington, followed by a memorial service.
“He just always seemed like Superman,” said Roger Padgett, one of Bouchie’s closest friends since age 11 and a high school teammate at Washington. “Just one of those guys that you think is invincible. But nobody is. It just really brings you down to Earth. Nobody is invincible. It can happen to any of us at any time. He fought as hard as he could.”
Bouchie came by his strength and power naturally, working on his father Norman’s fruit farm in Washington picking watermelons and cantaloupes.
“He had huge hands, and he’d get out there and pick up 30 pound melons three at a time all day long for 10 hours,” Padgett said. “It was unbelievable the strength and endurance he had.”
Bouchie was extremely well conditioned from running up the Hatchet House steps, and he was extremely skilled on both sides of the floor for a player his size. He could shoot from all over the floor, and he could defend every position in the front court because of his understanding of passing lanes and his ability to body up big men and rebound.
As a senior at Washington, he averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds per game to become the first Hatchet to win Mr. Basketball honors before Luke, Tyler and Cody Zeller each won the award. Bouchie finished his career with a then-Washington record 1,727 points to go with 842 rebounds, taking Washington to semi-state twice.
“When coach (Bob) Knight started coming to games, we started to realize how good he really was,” Padgett said.
Bouchie dealt with tragedy during that senior year. Norman and his mother Carrey went to an IU game in February and met with Knight afterward. On the way home, their car hit a patch of ice and crashed, and Carrey was killed. Knight served as one of the pall bearers at the funeral.
Bouchie arrived at Indiana with an extremely talented class that also included Isiah Thomas, but he still started 16 games and averaged 21 minutes per game as a freshman on a Hoosier squad that won the Big Ten title and reached the Sweet 16 in 1980 despite injuries to stars Mike Woodson and Randy Wittman. He averaged 6.5 points per game that year and took just over five shots per game, but he could defend and rebound well enough to find a starting spot in a front court that also included Woodson, Landon Turner and Ray Tolbert.
“That’s how good he was,” Kitchel said. “He was a great player, a great rebounder, extremely strong, powerful guy.”
As a sophomore, he battled a foot injury and struggled to earn playing time on a loaded roster, made some contributions to the 1981 national championship run. Once several stars of that squad left and he healed, he averaged over 20 minutes per game again 1982 and 1983, averaging 6.4 and 6.3 points per game in each of those seasons. The Hoosiers reached the NCAA Tournament again in 1982 and then won Bouchie’s third Big Ten title in four seasons in 1983, with a 24-6 record.
“He could play pretty much anywhere on the floor,” Kitchel said. “He could play in the post, had great post moves. But he could also step out. He was a very good shooter. He was a very intelligent player. He knew what his strengths were. He was just a fantastic player.”
Those skills earned him a professional career, though not a very long one. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1983 draft by the Detroit Pistons, but didn’t hang on there. He played less than a season in Italy before he broke his hand, and decided to call it a career, going back to work on the farm with his father and raise his young family.
Bouchie maintained a quiet existence ever since. He eventually bought his own farm where he raised turkeys, and he worked on the Washington school board. But he’s very rarely stepped into the public eye, even on a local level. He declined invitations from Washington High School to celebrate the anniversary of his winning Mr. Basketball, and he was one of the few members of the 1980 Big Ten title team who wasn’t at Assembly Hall when Knight returned this winter.
He faced several personal tragedies since. His brother Ronnie and his brother died in recent years, and he lost his son Bryan, a former Washington star who played college basketball at Valparaiso and Evansville, at the age of 30 in 2018. Since then, he and his wife Lisa had been raising Bryan’s children.
“It’s unimaginable,” Padgett said. “I don’t think you ever get over that, but he went on because they helped raise his son and daughter. I hope that gets Lisa through this. I know that got Steve through a lot, and I hope that gets Lisa through all this.”