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Former QHS star Bush goes from walk-on to captain at UIC

CHICAGO -- Howard Moore lined up the University of Illinois-Chicago men's basketball players on the sideline, and one by one, he called three of the Flames forward.

Matt Bush happened to be one.

"He announced to the team we were the captains," Bush said.

That's a moment a walk-on can never forget.

"It was just an awesome feeling," Bush said.

Almost as incredible as being in the starting lineup for UIC's first exhibition game this season.

"It was beyond my dreams," said Bush, the former Quincy High School guard and the second-leading scorer on the 2007 QHS team that reached the sectional finals. "I had talked to coach a couple times last year and he was telling me how I could have made an impact. He gave me the opportunity to do that as a captain. I have to make the most of it."

This is an opportunity he doesn't want to squander, considering all he's been through. Since joining the UIC program as a recruited walk-on in 2009 following a two-year stint at Black Hawk College in Moline, Bush has undergone two surgeries on his left knee. The first came in 2009 when he had the knee scoped to clean out any dead tissue.

"I decided to take that year off and let it heal," Bush said.

By doing so, he came back healthy. Bush earned a spot in the rotation coming off bench, playing 14 minutes in the season opener against Pittsburgh. He buried a pair of shots, including a 3-pointer, grabbed a rebound and added an assist. He called playing his first D-I game on the road against team that would go on to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament an "awesome experience."

His second game wasn't quite so remarkable. During the second half against Roosevelt -- the same school UIC (1-1) beat 59-42 on Wednesday night -- Bush suffered a torn patella tendon.

"I tweaked it and knew something was wrong," Bush said.

It was worse than he had hoped.

"It's a rare injury," Bush said. "But they treat it like an ACL injury."

So he underwent surgery, rehabilitation and a lot of hoping and praying he would be healthy by this season.

"I'm probably back to 100 percent, or at least very close to it," Bush said. "My knee has the good days and the bad days. It's a matter of icing it or putting heat on it. I do what it takes."

Fortunately, he doesn't have to play with a brace.

"I just have a really big scar to show for it," Bush said.

The more he plays, the less anyone realizes he went through the injuries.

"It took me a little bit in that first game to get adjusted to the speed again," Bush said. "I think I'm there."

He needs to be because he has a role to fill. Bush will be one of the Flames' 3-point threats coming off the bench. He averaged 13 minutes per game during the exhibition season and played nine minutes in the season opener at Eastern Michigan, knocking down a 3-pointer as the Flames lost 68-57. He'll get a chance to face his hometown school on Saturday when the Flames play host to Quincy University.

He knows he has the chance to play more as long as he's committed to putting in the effort.

"Fortunately, coach has the mindset that he doesn't look at who is on scholarship," Bush said. "He looks at who is playing hard. If you play hard, you're going to get your chance." An opportunity is all Bush ever wanted. Now, he's making the most of it.

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