The cell phone rang unexpectedly in early March and the caller ID information, somehow eliminated after a hospital stay in early February, didn’t reveal who was on the other end.
“Mr. Hague? It’s me, Jason Bush,” the caller said. “I just wanted to thank you for all the things you did for me. When you made me Athlete of the Week [in the March 1, 1998 editions of the Hudson Reporter], you changed my life for the better. You made people realize I was a good basketball player. You had faith and confidence in me and you helped me get into college.”
Jason had read an article in the local daily about a certain sports columnist doing a play in Kearny, where he resides now.
“That’s great that you’ve become an actor,” he said. “You’d make a good actor.”
When I told Jason it was a one-shot deal for charity, he was still very complimentary.
“You do a lot of good things for people, like you did for me,” he said. “I’ll forever remember that.”
Unfortunately, forever only lasted for two more months.
Jason Bush died tragically last week. He was only 31 years old. The circumstances surrounding his death are still sketchy at best and there are several stories floating around. Only the ones directly involved know what really happened – or even they will never know.
But Jason Bush was apparently involved in a physical tussle, collapsed and was without oxygen for an extended period. An asthmatic since childhood, the lack of oxygen forced Bush to fall into a coma and he died three days after the incident.
Jason Bush was a fine basketball player during his high school and collegiate days. He first attended St. Anthony High School, like his older brother, Billy, and he remained there for two years.
But there wasn’t a lot of playing time for Jason with the Friars when an All-American like Anthony Perry was playing in front of him.
“He wanted to be on the floor, but there was just no place for him to play with us,” said legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley. “Somewhere in that time frame , he decided he wanted to go to Ferris. I had a good connection with the Bush family through Billy. He was a nice kid from a good family. It’s just one of those circumstances where things didn’t work out for Jason with us, but even after Ferris, we remained in contact and he would come to our open gyms and play with our players.”
Bush transferred to Ferris, where he played for coach Kyle Anderson, Sr., the father of current St. Anthony All-American Kyle, Jr.
“He developed into a special player for us,” the elder Anderson said. “Jason held a special bond with my family. He became very close to my son, who was about six years old at the time. Jason had a big impact on my son.”
Bush flourished at Ferris, where he eventually became an All-Hudson County honoree and earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors. Along with Amin Wright, Bush led the Bulldogs to the HCIAA championship in 1998, with the two earning Co-Most Valuable Player honors after beating North Bergen and famed scorer Rick Apodaca in the title game.
Bush scored 15 points in the 47-34 championship game, one that he somehow managed to play after pulling the string to tighten his basketball shorts clear out of the pants. He played the game with his shorts taped to his waist with athletic adhesive.
“The only problem with that was keeping my jersey tucked in,” Bush said in his Athlete of the Week feature in March, 1998. “I didn’t want to tuck it too hard, because it might have broken the tape.”
Anderson was pleased with the way Bush developed as a player.
“Jason was held to a higher esteem as a player,” Anderson said. “He really developed nicely as a player. He had all the skills to be like his brother. He just didn’t have the size.”
It’s the reason why big brother Billy was able to go to the University of Bridgeport, taking his immense talents, leaping ability and 6-foot-7 frame to big-time basketball.
“Jason was 6-foot-2 at age 16 and he just stopped growing,” Anderson said. “But Jason’s development as a player skyrocketed because of the competition he had in practice every day with us at Ferris, guys like Amin Wright and Travis Ragland. They pushed Jason to become a better player.”
But as good of a player Bush became, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds per game his senior year of 1998, leading Ferris to its last county title, Bush was an even better person.
“I think the emphasis should be on how good of a kid he was,” Anderson said. “This news left me saddened. I continually think of it. I couldn’t even bear to tell my son for a day or so. My son was tremendously shook up by it.”
After Bush graduated from Ferris, he went to play for two years at Montclair State, where he played for former St. Peter’s College head coach and New Jersey coaching legend Ted Fiore.
“He was motivated about basketball and he was a very good teammate,” Fiore said. “I enjoyed coaching him.”
In 2000, Bush helped to lead Montclair State to the ECAC Metro Division III championship.
“He was a hard-working player and a good kid,” Fiore said. “I liked him a lot.”
All three coaches said the same thing about Jason Bush.
“I’ll always remember his smile,” Anderson said. “I’ll always remember how much he wanted to play and how hard he worked in order to win games, but he always did it with a smile on his face. He was a great kid. It’s a tremendous loss. It’s like losing your own child. You never expect one of your players to go before you do. He was just a special kid.”
“I’ll remember that smile,” Fiore said. “He always had a smile on his face. He was always happy.”
Hurley has watched some of his former players pass away over the years, including guys like the late Mark Harris and the late Sydney Raeford. It’s never easy when a young person dies way too young.
“I feel so terrible for the Bush family,” Hurley said. “It’s just a sad story. I think when things like this happen, it makes you value life more. When things like this come up, you value what you have. I think there’s a lesson too, when we get off course, we need to listen to those who can steer you back in the right direction.”
Jason Bush might have had his indiscretions and faults, but deep down inside, he was a good kid with a big heart who cared an awful lot about an awful lot of people. And now, it’s simply awful that he’s gone way too soon.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.