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Rick Bolus: still scouting, still loving it, after all these years

February 20, 2019 FieldsColumn

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Rick and Shela Bolus. (Photo by Mike Fields)

BY MIKE FIELDS

Rick Bolus estimates that he’s driven more than a half-a-million miles to scout more than 10,000 high school basketball games over the last 46 years. He’s in remarkably good health considering he’s consumed several thousand concession-stand hot dogs and boxes of popcorn along the way.

Shela Bolus, Rick’s wife, is into horses and loves trail riding. A few years ago her husband, on a rare occasion when he wasn’t sequestered in a gym somewhere, went riding with her.

“To make a long story short,” Bolus said, “I fell off the horse and broke my thumb and five ribs.

“That’s why I prefer basketball.”

Bolus has always preferred hoops over horses. Basketball has always been his passion.

Rick Bolus played high school basketball at Male (Class of 1968).

He was a talented shooting guard for Male High School (Class of 1968), and his teammates included star Henry Bacon, who went on to have a solid college career at Louisville.

At Virginia Military Institute, Bolus was one of the top freshmen-team scorers in the nation, averaging 33 points. He wound up transferring to Boston College, where he was coached by Chuck Daly, who later guided the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles.

Among Bolus’ teammates at Boston College was Jim O’Brien, who went on to a successful coaching career, too, leading Ohio State to the Final Four in 1999.

While Bolus was in a college, he worked an Adolph Rupp-Dan Issel-Mike Pratt Camp, and roomed with Mike Casey. Besides helping out with coaching the campers, Bolus was tasked with getting Rupp to and from the gym, so he got to spend a lot of time with the legendary Kentucky coach.

Those big-name influences, especially Daly and Rupp, helped Bolus forge a bond with basketball that has lasted a lifetime.

He coached high school hoops in Louisville for a few years, including stints as boys’ coach at Evangel and girls’ coach at Seneca, before finding his niche as an evaluator and promoter of high school talent.

Rick Bolus’ first summer basketball camp was in 1980. He’ll hold his 40th camp this June.

Bolus put together his first recruiting newsletter in 1973. It included scouting reports on dozens of high school players in the Louisville area.

A few years later he expanded his scope to include all of Kentucky and some bordering states.

At the time, there were only a few scouting services in the country. Dave Bones was the pioneer, establishing a national presence in the 1960s. Howard Garfinkel and Bill Cronauer followed his lead.

At one time, 250 coaches subscribed to Bolus’ newsletter and player rankings. (All his information is now online for free at www.basketball-camp.net)

Bolus teamed up with Bones to hold the Cage Scope/High Potential “Blue-Chip” Basketball Camp in the summer of 1980. Bolus eventually made it a solo venture, and this June he will put on the 40th annual High Potential Blue Chip Camp at Georgetown College.

Bolus takes a lot of pride in his camps, which have hosted more than 30,000 middle school and high school boys and girls.

In the early years, he got some high profile prospects, like Rex Chapman, Allan Houston and Jimmy Jackson.

When Jackson’s name is mentioned, Bolus laughs and recounts how his wife initially told Jackson’s coach the camp was fully booked and there was no room for him. She didn’t know Jackson was one of the top prospects in the nation.

Bolus called Jackson’s coach back and found a spot for the future Ohio State All-American and long-time NBA player.

Once the shoe companies started their own camps, they corralled most of the high-profile prospects. Bolus didn’t mind. He was more than happy to give exposure to players who otherwise may not have garnered much attention.

Take Jeff Hall for example. He attended the Bolus-Bones camp in the summer of 1981, before his senior year at tiny Fairview High School in Ashland.

At the time, Hall was being recruited by smaller colleges, including some OVC schools, but everything changed thanks to one week of camp at Bellarmine.

“One thing led to another, and (University of Louisville assistant) Bobby Dotson got wind of me playing,” Hall recalled. “I was having a really good camp, at that time probably the best week of basketball of my life.”

Dave Bones, left, and Rick Bolus at one of their early camps.

Out of 400 players, Hall was named the camp MVP. “That really opened up some eyes,” he said, “and a guy from a small school in eastern Kentucky got an opportunity for some bigger schools to see me.”

Dotson recruited Hall, who played four years for Louisville and helped the Cardinals win the 1986 NCAA title.

“That camp was a steppingstone for me, one that I’ll never forget because it basically allowed me to go to the University of Louisville,” Hall said. “Had I not gone to that camp, I would not have ended up at U of L.”

It’s impossible to know how many kids have parlayed an appearance at Bolus’ camp into a chance to play college ball at some level. A conservative estimate would mean a few thousand have so benefited.

“It’d be impossible to keep track of all that, but I do know he’s been responsible for helping a lot of kids get recruited and get a college education because of basketball,” Hall said.

Shela Bolus, who runs the camp concessions, said her husband has a single-minded devotion to his campers.

“He mothers those children,” she said. “He’s up at 6 (a.m.) and stays there ‘til midnight. He won’t even leave for meals.”

Bolus has always spoken the truth about a player’s potential. “So many kids think too high, and the parents do too,” he said.

He is principled in his evaluations. He doesn’t boost players just because they attend his camp, nor does he low-ball players who don’t.

“My number one priority in ranking players is seeing them with my own eyes,” he said. “Second, I talk to college and high school coaches. Then there’s internet research, along with newspapers and magazines.

“You can’t see everybody play … there are 20,000 high schools in America.”

The Boluses have two sons — Chris, who’s a doctor in Boston, and Josh, who’s an assistant county attorney in Bullitt County. Their dad didn’t push them toward basketball, and neither of them played it.

Bolus retired as a Jefferson County middle-school teacher in 1999, but he still substitutes fairly often. His recruiting service and camps have provided a nice supplemental income over the years, but he doesn’t do it for the money.

He does it because he loves the game. Nobody has seen or enjoyed more Kentucky high school basketball over the last half-century.

Asked to name a starting five from all the players he’s seen, and he came up with Darrell Griffith, Jeff Lamp, Rex Chapman, Allan Houston and Melvin Turpin. That’s five guys who went on to play in the NBA. 

“And,” he added, “probably the best shooter, period, I ever laid eyes on was Richie Farmer.”

People are always asking Bolus, 69, when he’ll give it up.

“I play it year by year,” he said. “I still enjoy it. I still love it.

“And I’m lucky to have an understanding wife. Most women would’ve kicked me out the door years ago.”

Rick does step away from basketball once in a while. He and his wife, who live on a 14-acre farm in Shepherdsville, will mark their 45th wedding anniversary this year by going on a Greek cruise.

In recruiting parlance, how would Shela rank Rick as a husband?

“He’s a five-star,” Shela said without hesitation. “He’s been a five-star since the day I met him.”

Rick Bolus with Adolph Rupp at the Adolph Rupp-Dan Issel-Mike Pratt Camp in 1971.

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