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Making Hard Work Pay Off
The following article first appeared in issue No. 1 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2012-13 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Nov. 27-Dec. 8. The Flames return to action tomorrow afternoon, when they travel to Washington, D.C. to take on Howard. Game time is slated for 4 p.m.
In a culture that celebrates star power and strives for the highlight reel, it is the players who prioritize impact over accolades that truly fuel their teams.
Liberty men's basketball forward Antwan Burrus is that kind of player. The 6-6, 235-pound athlete is fully capable of bulldozing to the basket or stepping behind the arc for a flashy play; and once in a while, he does. But, it his relentless effort in every element of the game that truly set the senior apart.
When asked about his favorite move on the court, Burrus' response was surprisingly decisive.
"I like to go to the middle and shoot a floater," he answered immediately.
You can see the play mentally unfolding in his eyes. Juke the defender, take a few strong dribbles, pull up and release over a sea of fingertips.
It's a fairly unusual choice for such a powerful athlete. After all, it's not as if he has to pull up. But that fundamental reply perfectly captures Burrus. His penchant for doing whatever it takes makes him a critical player for Flames basketball.
The 2011-12 season turned out to be Burrus' breakout year. Unexpectedly called upon to step up and shoulder more responsibilities for last year's injury-plagued Liberty team, he responded in impressive style.
The powerful post took the opportunity to display his multifaceted abilities in both hardwood skill and leadership by example, proving himself among the most versatile players on head coach Dale Layer's squad.
Certainly, there were shining offensive moments. Burrus provided scoring when it counted the most, posting a career-high 20 points to close out the regular season and help Flames secure the fifth seed in conference standings. The unforgettable 30-foot buzzer-beater three he sank for a victory at Charleston Southern also proved to be a defining moment during the season.
"It was a thrill I will never forget – I was thrilled for him," Layer declared of the shot, which landed Burrus the No.2 slot on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays.
Look closer, though, and the outlying glories are far outweighed by Burrus' minute-by-minute game play.
He hustles on defense, with quick hands and a great feel for the ball. Sharp screens, quick passes, and a beautiful, classically executed midrange jumper that's all but a lost art for the average player's repertoire these days serve as fundamental reminders of the big man's versatility.
"He can bang inside with the bigger players and then step out and catch, pass, shoot and dribble with a fine skill set," Layer confirmed.
Burrus finished out his junior season with four double-doubles, an average of 11.2 points per game, and 6.3 rebounds per game including a total of 78 critical offensive boards. His 36 blocked shots, fifth most in the Big South Conference, also a nod to the commanding defensive presence he provided the Flames down low.
While Burrus will humbly shrug off praise for his profound consistency on both sides of the ball, Layer has no problem acknowledging the senior's efforts.
"Hard work pays off," Layer stated. "Antwan has become versatile due to his hard work. He has consistently improved each year based on his commitment to getting better."
The crowds at the Vines Center should not worry about a falloff from the senior. A pleasant surprise last year, Burrus is headed into his final season with the Flames as the team anchor - and not just statistically.
While the big man continues to strive for excellence on the hardwood, he is also seeking to develop an equally significant aspect of his basketball career; his role in team leadership and influence on morale.
"I'm still going to play as hard as I can, but as a senior I've definitely got to talk more, be more vocal on and off the court," Burrus said.
It's a task easier said than done for the man of few words. Despite being a quiet guy in everyday life, Burrus recognizes a leadership void in the young 2012-13 team and takes responsibility as an upperclassman to fill it. In tackling the task, he plans on looking to a particular professional player for inspiration.
"One of my favorite players would be Kevin Garnett. I like his passion, he plays every night so hard and I like his emotion," Burrus explained. "I'm just going to try to focus on playing as hard as I can, keep my own energy up and bring some emotion when I'm on the court to keep my teammates fired up."
Layer added, "Antwan has inner desire and emotion. It comes out during games, and when it does, we feed off of it."
The head coach also referenced the common misconception, especially in the realm of athletics, that passionate leadership and volume must go hand in hand. Passion does not have to be loud. Sometimes quiet, relentless effort and intense focus are more compelling than constant noise, if only for contrast.
"When Antwan speaks, people listen. What Antwan does in his daily routine, people observe and follow," Layer noted.
Considering the unselfish theme of his vocal message and the fundamental finesse that goes into his daily routine, Burrus' example is one Liberty basketball fans can feel confident in the Flames following deep into the 2012-13 season.
Ryley Rush is a Liberty University freshman and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics