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BURLISON: The latest from NBA pre-draft camp

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 

CHICAGO

Six years ago, when was one of the toasts of the national high school basketball scene as a senior-to-be at Woodbridge High in Irvine, Calif., this is not the path he imagined he'd be taking in an effort to earn NBA paychecks. Then again, who could have blamed him for assuming he'd have been a lottery selection long before now, counting the years to free agency and the really big bucks that status can bring a player? After all, in the summer of 1996, he was a 6-foot-10 forward who was just months away from signing a letter of intent that would make a member of a recruiting class that was to include two other eventual McDonald's All-Americas, and . Fast forward to today. Brand and Battier were both national players of the year for the Blue Devils and are currently banking their NBA millions with the L.A. and , respectfully. And Burgess is one of about 65 players — just a handful of whom had anything near the hype or expectations of Burgess five or six years ago — who have been trying to show everyone and anyone in a decision making position within the league this week at the Moody Bible Institute that they are worthy of being on an NBA roster next fall. Have the bitterness and/or frustration of seeing the path of his post-high school basketball career riddled with potholes left him an angry and cynical still-young (at 23) man? You'd never guess it, talking to him Thursday afternoon. After turning in an impressive 20 minutes or so in a scrimmage in which he was the Burgess, circa high school career — flying up and down the floor, crashing the iron for two-handed follow dunks and dropping in soft 18-footers — he was all smiles. "Growing up as a basketball player, you dream about playing in college and the NBA," he said. "I'm never going to be one to say 'Why me?' I've had some amazing opportunities and success. But even with your successes, you're going to hit some bumps in the road." At it was Brand who turned out to be the immediate star, eventually earning Player of the Year as a sophomore while Burgess ultimately left the school after spending two seasons as a reserve. He transferred to — in large part, because of Rick Majerus' reputation as a teacher of the game and as a coach who prepared his players for the NBA as well or better than anyone on the college level. But, after a redshirt season, back, ankle and foot injuries — the latter of which, suffered on Dec. 29 in a game against , effectively ended his college career — stunted the kind of success he hoped he'd enjoy in Salt Lake City. Prior to the tear in a tendon in the arch of his right foot in December, he was playing better than he had in his college career — averaging about 13 points and seven rebounds for the Utes. He looks quite fit, at 6-10 and 246 pounds, and appears to be running as well as he did as a 17-year-old. And he's hoping the crowd of NBA types at courtside and in the stands is taking notice during the league's Pre-Draft Camp, which wraps up Friday night, just 19 days before the draft. "I'm just trying to show them that I'm healthy and not injury prone," he said. "I want to show them that I'm strong and can run, and that I can bang and rebound with the best of them and that I can provide a spark (in the league) for some team, maybe as an eighth or ninth man." This is coming, mind you, from a guy referred to, during his prep career, as a "combination of Bill Walton and Larry Bird" by a national recruiting "expert" whose obvious affinity for hyperbole often spills over into the ludicrous. Recruiting letters and visits, and McDonald's All-America jackets don't mean a thing right now to Burgess or anyone else working intently so that they can hear their names called anywhere during the draft's two rounds on June 26. And Burgess credits Majerus for helping him understand that. "When I was leaving and talking to Coach Majerus about coming to , I tried to compare myself to ," he said of the former Ute's All-America and now New Jersey ' forward. Majerus had his own perspective. "He said 'You're no Van Horn,'" Burgess said, smiling. "And then he said 'this is what you are' and I can try to help you get there (to the NBA, as a power forward, blue-collar type)." For a guy who, since his days on the youth traveling team circuit, was used to coaches or wannabe coaches (of the summer variety) telling him what they believed he wanted to hear, it was an introduction to Hoops Reality, Majerus style. "That's the thing about coach Majerus," he said. "He might not tell you exactly what you want to hear but the great thing is that he tells you the truth. And, whether you're 17 or 18, or 22, that's what you need to hear. And (after criticisms), he hopes that you prove him wrong sometimes. He is challenging you (to be your best) all the time."

Chicago camp notes

BURLISON'S BREAKDOWN
Take a look back at more of the reports delivered by Frank Burlison during the Chicago pre-draft camp:


  • League sources say that once the Italian League championship series is concluded, it won't be long before Treviso Benneton coach Mike D'Antoni — a former coach with the — is announced as an assistant to Frank Johnson for the Phoenix . D'Antoni is coaching a couple of players, forwards Nikoloz Tskitsishivili and Bostjan Nachbar, who will be first round picks on June 26. The 6-11 Tskitsishivili, who is just 19, is considered by some who've seen him to be the best talent in the draft and isn't likey to still be available by the time Phoenix picks at No. 9. The are also expected soon to announce the hiring of Miami assistant Marc Ivaroni, one of basketball's most highly thought of "big man" coaches.
  • State sophomore confirmed Thursday evening that he will not return to college and will remain in the draft. The consensus of scouts in Chicago is that Taylor will be chosen somewhere in the second round.
  • Two junior forwards at the camp, of and Chris Massie of , haven't done anything here to create a buzz among scouts and both would be well advised to ask their college coaches about returning for their senior seasons.
  • Smush Parker, who played just one season at (when he had just one more assistant than turnover), has impressed a lot of scouts here with his size (6-3, with real long arms) and quickness, as well as his ball-handling skills and vision. They're hoping his decision making will improve considerably, though. He's convinced enough people that he's worthy of being chosen somewhere — possibly early - in the second round. Another point guard, , who played just one season of college basketball (at , during 2000-01), is still an erratic jump shooter, at best, but penetrated almost at will Thursday night while scoring 17 points and collecting six assists.
  • star , who measured at 6-6 ¼ (without shoes) and weighed in at 264 pounds, scored 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds Thursday night to help his team prevail, 112-106, in overtime against a squad led by guard (16 points, 11 assists and two steals). Scouts believe Baxter will be a second-round pick despite his being shorter than the vast majority of the league's power forwards. Frank Burlison can be reached at his e-mail address: fburlison@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Nuggets, Clippers, Nets, Suns, Grizzlies, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Memphis, Houston, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Michigan, Denver, Duke, Maryland, Fordham, Fresno State, Utah

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