Burton to play last home game as Wolf Pack
Special to the Tribune
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West opponents have feared the beard the last four years. Pack fans now get to cheer the beard one last time on Saturday when Deonte Burton, the bearded one, takes his final bows at Lawlor Events Center against UNLV. It will be the last Lawlor regular season performance for an incredible 12-year run of Pack point guards from Todd Okeson to Ramon Sessions to Armon Johnson to Burton. “That position has been very good to us,” Pack coach David Carter said. Wolf Pack fans, though, shouldn’t worry. Carter, a cerebral point guard at St. Mary’s in the late 1980s, is a point guard guru. He tutored Okeson, Sessions, Johnson and Burton and he’ll find and develop the next great Pack point guard.
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Where does Burton rank among the Pack’s best point guards? Just by pure numbers alone, Burton just might be the best. He leads all Pack point guards in points, field goals and free throws and is second in assists, third in rebounds and fourth in steals. There might not have been another point guard in school history that could do as many things as well as Deonte Buckets. He is truly not only one of the best point guards in Pack history but also one of the best all-around players. Has there ever been a more electrifying dunker in school history? Burton was anointed the best player on the team the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman. Not even Nick Fazekas had that much pressure and responsibility at so young an age.
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The only negative surrounding Burton is that his Pack teams have gone just 67-61 in his career and he’s had just one winning season so far. He’s also never won a conference tournament or gone to a NCAA Tournament. But which other point guard in Pack history would have won more than 67 games over the last four years with the same supporting cast Burton was given? Burton has had to be much more than just a point guard. He has had to score, rebound and defend as well as lead and coach this program on and off the court. Sessions had Nick Fazekas and others, Johnson had Luke Babbitt and others. Burton has had, well, just others. Burton has simply carried this program on his shoulders the last four years.
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Burton is the Wolf Pack’s Cal Ripken. He has never missed a game in his Pack career, starting all 128 and counting. Carter also said this week that Burton is the only player in his 15 years at Nevada (the first 10 as an assistant) that has never missed a practice. He’s played more minutes (4,316) than any Pack player during Carter’s era (Fazekas played 3,944). Forget all of Burton’s wonderful talents. Those talents alone are enough to give him a five-minute standing ovation on Saturday. But if you simply love hard-working, tough, fearless, competitive players — not to mention the most unselfish elite player the Wolf Pack has had in recent memory — you should love Burton. He deserves as much love on Saturday as Fakekas received on his Senior Night on March 3, 2007.
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Don’t be shocked if this Wolf Pack team gets to the Mountain West tournament title game. The loss to San Jose State on Feb. 18 at home was the punch to the gut this program has desperately needed. That loss embarrassed everyone in the program and made everyone look in the mirror. It was the best thing to happen to this program in quite a while. We’ve seen a different, more determined and gritty Pack team over the last three games — wins on the road at Air Force and Boise and a strong performance at home in a loss to New Mexico. They could stun the conference next week. Burton is the best player in the league. Jerry Evans, Cole Huff and Michael Perez are among the top five or six at their positions. A.J. West can be as dominating a defensive presence and offensive rebounder as there is in the Mountain West when he wants to be. Marqueze Coleman is one of the best sixth men. A win Saturday over UNLV could be the catalyst for a Cinderella run in the conference tournament.
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The NCAA is going to wait a year before seriously considering whether or not to penalize football teams for snapping the ball in the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. It’s too bad they didn’t implement the rule immediately. College football has become college basketball’s Loyola Marymount of the late 1980s. Wolf Pack coach Brian Polian, of course, loves fast-break football. The Pack had seven games last year with 80-plus plays and two with 100 or more. Why wouldn’t he love it? It levels the playing field for teams that aren’t as talented and physical as their opponent and it also takes emphasis off of coaching and strategy. The only strategy is merely to hurry up to the line of scrimmage and flip yet another 5-yard pass before the defense can catch their breath. It’s like allowing a pitcher to throw the ball before the hitter even gets in the batter’s box. You don’t have to be good or all that efficient. You just have to be fast.
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Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Trent Johnson’s head coaching career? Johnson’s TCU Horned Frogs have lost 17 games in a row and are now 9-20 overall and 0-17 in the Big 12. In two years at TCU Johnson is 20-41 and 2-33 in the Big 12. Johnson has had just one winning season in his last five seasons (three at LSU, two at TCU) and has gone 14-69 in conference play over that stretch. After 15 seasons as a head coach Johnson has yet to prove he can win on a consistent basis. The 57-year-old is just a mediocre 240-224 in his career and has won 20 or more games just three times and has won just one conference title (2004 with the Wolf Pack). Johnson just might be one of those coaches who has more ability to win job interviews than he does games or championships.
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