ASHLAND, Ky. - Back in middle school, Kyle Bush heeded a teacher's advice to write down goals and put them in a place where he would see them every day.
Bush didn't have to think long before putting to paper a lifelong ambition.
"It's been a dream of mine to play college basketball since I was a little kid," said Bush, who has been on the AAU circuit since he was a third-grader. "I pinned up that piece of paper on a wall in my bedroom. Every day when I wake up, I see it."
Now, Bush can read it with a smile. Last season's area assist leader as a senior for the Ashland Tomcats signed this summer with Union College, an NAIA school located in Barbourville, Ky.
Bush, who maintained a 3.6 grade point average, knows greater challenges await him at the next level.
"I made the goal of getting there," he said. "That was the easy part. Now I have to produce for the next four years."
Known mostly for his playmaking ability and defense on Ashland's regional runner-up teams the past two seasons, Bush has dedicated himself more than ever to physical conditioning and improving his shooting. Last season, he struggled with accuracy from the field and foul line.
"I've been in the gym every day," he said.
Seth Sammons, who coached Ashland's freshmen last season, has been assisting Bush on a regular basis.
"I get up early and go to the Y before anybody," Bush said. "We work three or four times a week on all kinds of things. He's done a great job pushing me in the areas I need help with. I can honestly say I have been doing a lot better with shooting."
Bush said Sammons tells him to relax, clear his mind, shoot the ball and not think too much.
"He's more like a trainer," Bush said. "In between every drill I have to make two free throws in a row. The purpose is to shoot them while you are tired, like in a game situation."
Bush also works out at the HIT Center of Huntington.
"I'm trying to get my conditioning at the best level it's ever been," he said. "I want to hit the ground running in college."
Although Bush kept in contact with about a half-dozen schools, Union showed the most interest despite a head-coaching change.
Sean Gillespie resigned in late March to pursue another opportunity in Florida. He guided the Bulldogs to an Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament championship in 2011, but Union slipped to 8-23 last season after being hit hard by injuries.
"Originally, coach Gillespie recruited me," Bush said. "He had me come to a game there and showed me around the campus."
After Gillespie vacated the job, one of Union's assistant coaches stayed in contact with Bush but also ended up leaving Union.
"For a while, I was worried," Bush said. "I kept faith in God that everything would work out the right way."
New head coach Kevin Burton, hired May 15, invited Bush and several other hopefuls to a workout that included retuning Union players.
"When I saw Kyle in person, I guess the thing that stuck out was he seemed to have a high basketball IQ," Burton said Tuesday. "You can tell he has a good awareness level of what's going on with the other nine players on the court. That's an aspect that is difficult to teach."
Overall, Burton is bringing in several newcomers and said he wants Union to be nationally competitive right away.
Burton knows about success, having guided Lambuth (Tenn.) University to a 139-75 record in seven seasons before the school closed down due to financial issues.
Lambuth was ranked in the top five of the NAIA Division I coaches poll during three consecutive seasons and led the nation in scoring in 2008 with 95.2 points per game.
"They play a real fast, up-and-down style," Bush said. "That's what I like. I think coach (Buddy) Biggs' practices at Ashland got us in good shape. I don't think the conditioning could be much harder at Union."
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder was also a tough-nosed defender on Ashland's district champion football team.
"I think I take that onto the basketball court," Bush said of his physical and aggressive approach.
His parents, John and Gina Bush, have supported Kyle along the way. John coached him on numerous AAU teams and was head coach at Rose Hill Christian during Kyle's freshman season before he transferred to Ashland. Gina, a teacher at Catlettsburg Elementary, made sure Kyle kept his grades up and has even rebounded balls and held blocking pads for him.
"She's a funny character," Kyle said. "I'm very blessed for the mother and father I have."