Originally created 03/16/04

Former local hoops star dead at 24

A former Butler High School and College of Charleston star basketball player died at his parentsí Augusta home Sunday morning.

Jeff Bolton, who graduated from Butler in 1997 and played parts of two seasons professionally in Europe, died from natural causes after a year-long illness. He was 24 years old.

"It's a shock," his stepmother, Judy Goodwin, said Monday evening. "He was a caring and giving person. If you were struggling and trying to make it, heíd help you. If he had it, you could have it."

He molded that attitude in high school. Although he averaged 14.3 points per game in his three-year high school career he led the team with 20.3 points per contest in his senior season.

Former coach John Kucela remembers his exploits off the court. Especially when Bolton tutored his classmates as a senior.

"He was a great kid," said Kucela, who coached the Washington-Wilkes girls basketball team the past two seasons.

"He was like the coach of the team on the floor and off the floor."

It helped him land a college scholarship to the College of Charleston. Although he was offered scholarships by national powers Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the 6-foot-4 guard wanted to be an immediate impact player and chose the Cougars program in the Southern Conference.

"As the decision got closer, he got nervous,íí Goodwin said. "I never told him what to do. I just told him to follow his heart."

Considering he averaged 13.8 points per game in his career, is fifth on the schoolís career list with 1,527 points (second-best since the school went Division I in 1991-92), and holds the single-game Division I record with 33 , his decision seemed to be a smart one.

"It's a sad day in my life," former College of Charleston coach John Kresse said. "Jeff Bolton was a tremendous player. He was the leader of some outstanding teams that I coached, and he was a graduate. He was the complete package in his years at Charleston."

After leading the Cougars with an 18.2-points per game average in 2001-02, Bolton traveled overseas to play professionally in the Netherlands and England.

Soon after signing to play with the Birmingham (England) Bullets in Jan. 2003, the club sent him back to America with a serious illness, according to published reports.

Current Butler coach Rob Johnson, though, always will have good memories of Bolton.

'When he came on the JV team as a freshman, he was a 5-8 weak guard,íí Johnson said. "At the end of the year, I told them he'd be a big-time player. They all laughed at me. But I saw something he had. He definitely had the right attitude."

Boltonís funeral will be held at 3 p.m. today at Kinsey and Walton Funeral Home on Peach Orchard Road.

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com.


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