Burleson grows into role with Gophers

by David La

When former coach Clem Haskins began recruiting Doug Wrenn out of O’Dea High School in Seattle, he opened up a pipeline from Washington to Minnesota.
Though Wrenn went on to Connecticut, the Gophers got his teammate — guard Kevin Burleson.
Shortly thereafter, another Haskins recruit, center Ryan Wildenborg of Kirkland, Wash., packed his bags for the Twin Cities.
When Dan Monson came from tiny Gonzaga (in Washington), one of his first orders of business was razzing the elusive Burleson.
“The first time I called (Burleson) after I took the (Minnesota) job I said to him, ‘You can run, but you can’t hide,'” Monson joked.
While Monson said he spoke with Burleson over the phone about coming to Gonzaga, he never made a home recruiting visit.
Burleson said, “When I first talked to (Monson) he said, ‘You dogged me out in high school, now its my turn.'”
Fortunately for Burleson, his new coach was kidding.
Since coming off the bench against Texas-Arlington, the 6-foot-3 guard has started the last four games. He leads the team in three-pointers made (8), free-throw percentage (.765) and is tops among guards in rebounding (14).
And through the first four games this season, Burleson’s minutes-played increased each game.
Though he redshirted last season, Burleson said Haskins coached him as if he was an every-game starter. In Monson’s estimation, that tutelage is paying off.
“He’s still learning; he makes some freshman mistakes,” Monson said. “But he’s got a very good upside. Whether he’s cracked the lineup or it’s just a lineup we’re going with right now remains to be seen.”
Determined to make a case for himself, Burleson has been as consistent as the rain in his home state.
Against an athletic, pressing Virginia team, Burleson played a season-high 34 minutes and committed only two turnovers.
“I really just try to come in and not turn the ball over, give quality minutes and show the coaches they can trust in me to produce when I come in,” Burleson said.
Twice this season Burleson scored in double-digits, dropping 16 points on Texas-Arlington and 11 against Morehead State. While aware that he plays a position known for its scorers, Burleson is also improving his all-around game.
“In high school, you just sit around on the outside and either pass or shoot,” Burleson said. “You don’t really think about rebounding, you leave that to the big men. In college it’s totally different. If you’re not rebounding you’re hurting the team.”
Solid rebounding numbers indicate that Burleson is indeed helping his team’s cause, but he doesn’t stop there. He is, after all, a veteran.
Haskins’ coaching rubbed off on Burleson and the swingman is passing on the experience to the first-year players.
“It’s so funny, I see them make the same mistakes in practice that I did,” Burleson said. “I tell them, ‘It’s all right, learn this year and when you get in, produce.'”
In other words, play a little follow the leader.

David La Vaque covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]