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Taking Advantage of a Moment

December 7, 2010  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Antwan Burrus (right) and the Flames return to the Vines Center court this Saturday to host George Mason. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.

Antwan Burrus (right) and the Flames return to the Vines Center court this Saturday to host George Mason. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.

The following article was first featured in the November edition of Flames Illustrated. Heading into this Saturday's home game against George Mason, Liberty forward Antwan Burrus has started 7-of-10 contests and is averaging 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Flames.

Entering his first season at Liberty, Antwan Burrus knew the transition from high school basketball to the college level was not going to be easy. Early on, the forward from Winterville, N.C. waited for a chance, remembering the words of his new coach Dale Layer.

"Coach always talked about being ready," recalled Burrus. "You just never know when you are going to get called to go in or when you are going to have a chance.

"I just tried to be ready and when I was put in the game, make the best of the situation."

That chance came on December 12 of last season, when the Flames hosted Kentucky Christian in the Vines Center. Burrus came off the bench early in the first half and excited the Liberty crowd by scoring a then career-high 15 points in just 12 minutes of play. The forward went 7-for-10 from the field and grabbed five rebounds, making the most of his playing time.

"It felt good," stated the 6-6, 235 lb. forward. "It took a lot of hard work to get to that point, and I wanted to be ready."

"I was expecting to play, and to be there for my team was great."

Not only did Burrus catch the attention of the Vines Center faithful that afternoon, but he also caught the attention of both the Big South Conference and his coaches. The forward was named the Big South Conference Freshman of the Week the following Tuesday for his play, and soon saw his playing time increase.

After averaging only 4.7 minutes of playing time over the first 11 contests of the year, Burrus quickly saw his playing time balloon to 20-plus minutes a contest over the next several games. On January 7, the forward received his first collegiate start against Presbyterian College and remained in the Liberty starting line-up over the final 16 games of the 2009-10 season.

"Last year was a year of growth for Antwan in that he had to figure out how hard he needed to work in order to have success," commented Layer. "He did that midway through the year and continued to build and grow.

"I think he was a surprise [last season]. It was always a question of whether he going to work every day to a level that is Division I quality. Once he figured that out, it enabled him to make progress and help our team in ways I don't think anybody saw in September or October [of last year].

"When guys work, they continue to get better, and that was the case with Antwan."

With more minutes and a starting role, the freshman saw his numbers rise. After averaging 3.4 points per game and 1.2 rebounds per contest through the first 11 contests, Burrus saw his numbers climb to 8.6 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game the remainder of the season. Combining the segments of his first year together, he completed the season by averaging 7.0 points and 4.1 boards per game.

Burrus' biggest game of the year came in a 91-73 victory over Big South opponent VMI at the Vines Center on January 28. Taking center stage on the night, the power forward netted a career-high 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for his second double-double on the year.

"They are a high-scoring team," stated Burrus about the night. "And Coach Layer always stressed that we have to play our game, not their game.

"We just stuck to the game plan that night and did what came my way. It turned out to be a big night."
The forward's 13 rebounds were not the first time he reached at least 10 in a game. Burrus pulled down 10 or more boards four times during the season, including 10 in his first start against Presbyterian College on January 7.

Being a rebounder and defender for the Flames is a role the forward has embraced and sees as the place he will make his mark for the team this season.

"I definitely see my role with our team as being a defender and rebounder," said the sophomore. "We have plenty of scorers, and I can score, but mostly I feel like I need to get rebounds and stop my man defensively to help us out.

"If I get a chance to put the ball in the hoop, I will do it. But, I do whatever is needed to help our team out and that is primarily rebounding and defense."

Coming into this season, Burrus is one of three starters returning for a young Liberty squad, which has just one senior on its roster. However just as he learned that hard work paid off last year, he know that through more hard work, there are things to be improved on.

"I look to get smarter on the floor," noted Burrus. "After playing at the end of last season, I think I have gotten smarter. I know a lot easier ways to achieve the same things both offensively and defensive, and I need to continue to work on that.

"Our coaches work with us every day to get us better skill-wise, and overall as a team, I think you will definitely see improvement."

" I think Antwan is better situated to help our team now than 12 months ago in every area," commented Layer about the forward coming into 2010-11 season. "If he continues to work, he will continue to make progress and help our team."

"Although we are still young, I expect us to be a lot better this year than last year," stated Burrus. "This is our second year in this system and we know what to expect. We have a lot of returners, and we expect to do well."

Ryan Bomberger is an associate athletics communications director for Liberty University