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Matt Bush

Matt Bush coached at Purdue Northwest this season while fighting cancer.  His players recalled him as a motivator who always pushed them to be their best.

It wasn't always a picnic playing basketball for Matt Bush.

He'd be the first to admit it.

Ask anybody who ever laced 'em up for the hoops coach at Morgan Township, Purdue North Central or Purdue Northwest, and they'll tell you the same thing.

In a time when coaches seemingly adapt to player personalities more than players adapt to coaches, Bush was unflinching, and seven years removed from their time together, Jaron Coleman is better for it.

"He was a hard-nosed guy," said Coleman, a 2011 Morgan grad who was a point guard for Bush. "He told you how it was. You have to fight for everything. Nothing's going to handed to you on a silver platter. Nothing comes easy. That's how his practices were. You have to work hard for stuff in life. You can't be lazy. You set those morals at a young age, that stays with you the rest of your life."

Coleman was reminiscing with former teammate Brandon Grubl the other day as they remembered their late coach, whose yearlong fight with cancer ended Sunday. They were the key cogs in Morgan's sectional upset of Bowman Academy, a game that Dustin Nelson, one of Bush's successors at Morgan, said people will be talking about forever.

"He started preparing us for that game the first couple weeks and we didn't even know it," Coleman said, "He had some master plan and he knew he was going to get it out of his guys. We were saying the same thing about that game. It wouldn't have been close if it wasn't for him."

PNW freshman Richard Robertson got his first impression of Bush during his visit to the Hammond campus last spring and it didn't take him long to get a read on his future coach. He didn't even know of Bush or PNW when he received the text message offering him a scholarship..

"He was only one that for sure wanted me and I knew that relationship was only going to grow stronger," Robertson said. "We were walking around campus and the main thing was working hard, being true to yourself. I knew he was a little old school. You could see it in his style, his walk, his approach, his tone. He had a vibe. He said everybody, your parents, are going to tell you what you want to hear. He wasn't. He didn't play any games."

Robertson embraced the no-nonsense philosophy, one he was accustomed to from his days at Fort Wayne Northrop, the same one Coleman experienced at Morgan.

"He pushed you to be your best," Robertson said. "I know how hard he took everything, every drill. He always said somebody's working harder than you so you have to go as hard as you can. That was ingrained in me since I've been here. It was also taking care of your family, the enjoyment you get out of basketball, working out, going to practice. The games are the easy part."

During Bush's illness, Robertson came to know the tremendous depth of his coach, who endeavored to wage his struggle privately.

"Initially, I didn't know about his sickness. Some of the players told me," Robertson said. "I went to his office and we talked. He didn't want us to know. He figured he'd get through it and knowing his strong character. He wasn't going to let something push him over. He missed some games, but he was still calling me, the team. Even with his trials and tribulations, he made sure everything was good. He put everybody else before him. That's something I'll take the rest of my life."

That indomitable spirit will remain at PNW, where Robertson's hopeful that Bush's son, Matty, who coached the team in his dad's absence, will be given the reins to the program.

"He was the backbone of the team," Robertson said. "Whatever happens, that will continue on with the guys. We will live on his legacy."

Tyree Coe came to PNW from junior college the year of the merger and came to deeply respect Bush as a coach and a person.

"The thing I'll remember the most is he was very intense, you could tell he was very passionate about basketball, but he really lived life to its fullest," Coe said. "Everyone says he was tough but he was tough on everyone. He was fair. No one was treated better than anyone else."

Bush's fight over the last year will remain an inspiration to Coe, who will graduate this summer with a degree in entrepreneurship.

"What he lived with, he fought so long, the fight he showed, he came back as coach and everybody would've understood if he had quit, but he didn't," Coe said. "Any time I face adversity, I know it's never going to be as bad as what he was fighting. I'll always have that in the back of my head. I'll remember him and I'll be encouraged to push forward."

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.