From 3-22 to State Champion: JC Bush leads Wildcats to victory in final game

Brian Tannehill / For The Herald

Edgewoods JC Bush (4) drives to the basket between two Autauga Academy defenders during the championship game on Friday.

JC Bush was becoming too familiar with the feeling of being on the losing end of the scoreboard. Edgewood won a total of just 11 games during his sophomore and junior seasons but Bush, now a senior, believed there was something bigger coming before his high school career ended.

“Around this time last year, we got everyone together and I said, ‘At this time next year, we’re going to be in a state championship,’” Bush said.

The Wildcats came through for Bush and found themselves on the biggest stage in AISA-AA basketball Friday night. And it did not take long for Bush to make an impact.

After just 21 seconds, Bush knocked down his first 3-pointer of the tournament to give Edgewood a lead it would not give up the rest of the night. Three minutes later, he assisted on a 3-pointer from Robert Stewart to put the Wildcats up 8-0.

Bush continued his tear at the end of the quarter, knocking down two 3-pointers in the final 48 seconds to give Edgewood a 16-0 lead after one quarter. And he got to do all of it in front of the rival student section from Autauga.

“That put the cherry on top of everything,” Bush said. “I was just shooting and knew it was going in. It felt amazing. To beat your rival in a state championship, you can’t ask for more than that.”

After scoring just three points in the semifinal win over Lowndes, Bush led the Wildcats with 14 points in his final game in an Edgewood jersey. His performance in the championship game was enough for him to be named to the all-tournament team.

“It couldn’t happen to a better kid,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “He’s had seasons with a little bit of wins and then for this to happen to him, I can’t even put into words how happy I am for him. He came out and hit his first big shots of the game. He saw the ball go in the net and played with confidence the rest of the day.”

Edgewood knocked off Autauga 38-21 to earn its third basketball state championship in school history. The Wildcats finished the season 22-5, tripling the number of wins for Bush during his high school career.

“This is unbelievable,” Bush said during the celebration after the game. “I’ll never be able to experience something like this again and I don’t think any of teammates will either. Throughout this whole journey, it’s been a great ride. I’m thankful for everyone that has been a part of it.”

Stewart, who grew up with Bush, was named as the tournament MVP after averaging 14.6 points per game. However, after the game, Stewart was more focused on his friend and sending him off the right way.

“JC has been my best friend since we were like five,” Stewart said. “We played (YMCA) basketball together and he got me to Edgewood. After the game, you could see how much it means to him. So, when I’m on the floor, I’m not playing for myself. I’m playing for JC.”

Bush is one of three seniors on Edgewood’s roster but is the only one who has been in the starting lineup all season. The Wildcats expect to continue to be a force but Free said there was not enough words to express what the program owed to Bush and his classmates.

“As a coach, you always say the hard work pays off,” Free said. “But in reality, you just hope it pays off because sometimes it doesn’t and you fall short. These guys have bought in to learning how to play the game. They showed up every day, getting better every day and it has culminated in winning a state championship for our seniors.”

Bush said the feeling of winning a state championship was better than he could have imagined but he always expected the hard work to pay off down the road.

“When coach Free took over this program, he sat us down in the classroom and told us where we were and where we needed to be,” Bush said. “We reached that today. We bought in and worked our tails off to be on top right now.”