By ADAM MANGUM
Grant Hill, Christian Laetner and coach Mike Krzyzewski. These names constitute the wonderful tradition that is Duke basketball, a tradition that played a part in one of the biggest recruiting stories in BYU history.
Two years ago, high school All-American Chris Burgess had narrowed his choice of schools down to two: BYU and Duke. BYU was in the picture because Burgess is LDS and former coach Roger Reid had pursued Burgess heavily. In the end though, Burgess chose the tradition of Duke over the tradition of BYU, and the surrounding national controversy put Reid on the hot seat. He was fired later that season.
Burgess now plays for Duke, and Reid has an assistant coach’s job in the NBA, thanks to his former pupil Ainge. The biggest loser in the whole game was the BYU basketball program, which is still trying to deal with the legacy Reid left behind, both good and bad.
Burgess is now only an observer to the BYU program. Two years after his decision, he was confident his decision was a good one.
“The tradition and the fan support is everything I heard and more,” Burgess said of the Blue Devil program.
Burgess harbors no hard feelings toward BYU or Reid. The decision was not based upon anything personal with the former coach, he said.
The situation was blown up after Burgess told the press that Reid had said Burgess was letting down nine million church members by deciding not to come to BYU. Burgess said that for a moment he thought Reid was right, but he doesn’t think so today.
Burgess has an eye on the NBA and said Duke is preparing him for his professional aspirations. He spent the summer playing pick-up games against the likes of former North Carolina stars Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse. He also does battle with sophomore sensation Elton Brand every day in practice. Burgess said this has improved his game tremendously.
“My game is night and day compared to when I came here. I will be the surprise in college basketball,” he said. Burgess only played 12.6 minutes a game last season, shooting 50 percent from the field and struggling at the free throw line, connecting on only a third of his attempts.
In addition to playing games with NBA players over the summer, Burgess also added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-11-inch frame. He also concentrated on his defense, primarily because defense is key to Krzyzewski’s system.
“If you can’t play defense, you can’t play for Duke. My minutes were less than I hoped for last year because I lacked defense,” he said.
Playing for the legendary Duke coach has also been one of his favorite things about being a Blue Devil.
“(Krzyzweski) is brilliant. He has a talent to be able to read people. He’s one in a million,” Burgess said.
Here in Provo, BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland has a different perspective. Though BYU doesn’t have the national tradition of Duke with two national championships and frequent trips to the Final Four, Cleveland asserts that BYU does have a solid basketball tradition. He points to 14 WAC championships and to NCAA tournament appearances.
“We have a great tradition here. We are in a rebuilding process trying to bring back and recapture the tradition and recapture the magic of the Marriott Center,” Cleveland said.
The Marriott Center and the other athletic facilities stick out, and Cleveland said he hopes the fans will return and fill the seats and recruits will want to be a part of the rebuilding process.
“You can’t find better fans than you have here. This state is basketball crazy,” he said.