Thomas Bush didn’t know he wanted to be a college basketball coach until he actually got into college, but he couldn’t shake the desire once bit by the bug.
Bush, a 2013 Campbell County High School graduate, was hired as an assistant coach at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, this past summer. The journey wasn’t always smooth, though.
Bush was actually a more accomplished tennis player in high school, winning two state titles with the Camels. But it was basketball that he missed the most when he arrived as a freshman at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.
He decided to reach out to then head coach Bradd Schafer to see if there was an open spot on the Yellow Jackets’ team. That’s when his unique path to college coaching started.
Schafer and Bush sat down to discuss the possibility, but ultimately decided that Bush’s main interest lied within the X’s and O’s of the game rather than playing. Schafer helped Bush find a position as a student coach on the Black Hills staff, but then Schafer took another job that May.
Bush continued to grow as a coach for his remaining three years at Black Hills State until he graduated in 2018. The next year of his life was a real struggle, though, as the search for another coaching job continued to show no results.
He had started to question whether this was the right career choice, but his fortunes finally changed in August.
Bush’s circuitous route back to coaching started the same way he got his first position — by reaching out to Schafer. This time, Schafer was the head coach at Western Colorado University.
After some conversation, Schafer decided to hire Bush as one of his assistants, which concluded a long, trying year for the CCHS graduate.
“Getting this job was really humbling, because last year was really tough,” Bush said. “I was questioning if this was the right career, but I just decided that I was going to go all in.”
Bush was thrown into the thick of things right away and needed to pass a recruiting test on one of his first days on the job. After that, he was “involved in everything,” but the people around him have made the transition go smoothly.
When Bush was hired, so was lead assistant coach Ben Beauchamp. Bush was already on good terms with Schafer, but he had also been around Beauchamp quite a bit when Beauchamp played for Black Hills during Bush’s first year there.
Bush’s coaching career seemed like it might be over before it ever really got started, but he thinks this is a great spot to get his feet wet.
“I’m at the bottom of the totem pole right now and have to work my way up,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to be a head coach up at the D-1 level.”
While the up-and-coming coach learned a lot during his time at Black Hills State, he’ll never forget the lessons he learned during his time in Gillette.
Bush wanted to give a special shoutout to three coaches in particular — Mike Curry, who was his head coach at Campbell County; Bubba Hladky, then assistant coach and now head coach at CCHS; and James Hinshaw.
“Everything I know about the game, I learned from those guys,” Bush said.