By Paul Thompson
Former Grandview High School basketball star Alec Burks will realize a dream tonight (June 23). He will be a first round pick in the NBA Draft, and become a professional basketball player. Projections have him being picked near the top of the first round, somewhere between the 9th and 15th selections in the draft.
Every team drafting tonight will have a tough decision to make. Do they want to be the next team to regret overlooking Alec Burks?
Despite a distinguished high school career that included an appearance in the state championship game in 2009 and a selection as the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Missouri, Burks was not heavily recruited out of high school. Missouri missed on him. Kansas didn't give him a thought. Kansas State jumped into the fray, albeit late in the game. He has said that the recruiting slights he received have helped keep him hungry. In fact, even Colorado University, where Burks attended for two years before declaring for the 2011 NBA Draft, somewhat lucked into the future star.
Former coach Jeff Bdzelik was actually recruiting another player in a quiet gym when Alec Burks exploded into his view. Bdzelik was immediately impressed. Just like that, Burks was on the map. He had impressed the right person. When Burks arrived at Colorado, he was hoping to come in and contribute in any way he could. Bdzelik had greater expectations.
Burks was given big minutes from the get-go at Colorado, and he was a revelation. During his freshman season, Burks scored in double figures in every game but one: a match-up against Iowa State when Burks departed after two minutes due to injury.
I'll always remember the first time I saw Burks play. It was a sleepy Saturday afternoon, and a Kansas State vs. Colorado basketball game provided the background noise. I wasn't particularly enthralled by the contest until, much as it happened for coach Bdzelik, a lean 6'6" shooting guard for Colorado opened my eyes with a series of tough finishes around the basket. Colorado lost the game, and Burks didn't put up earth-shattering numbers (14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), but the eyes told a different story.
Burks was polished. He didn't look like a freshman. He was ready for the moment. And he became one of my favorite players in the Big 12. The coaches of the Big 12 saw it too, and awarded Burks with the Freshman of the Year award.
When I got the job at the Jackson County Advocate, I learned that the young Colorado freshman I had pegged for greatness had starred at Grandview High School. Now, Colorado became must-see TV. I told my friends to watch out for this guy, Burks, who was a superstar in the making. I built him up so much that it seemed impossible to meet my lofty expectations. Of course, Burks didn't meet my expectations. He surpassed them.
This season, Burks scored 36 points and grabbed 8 rebounds against Missouri. He scored 25 points with 6 rebounds against Kansas. These schools knew who he was now, and were kicking themselves for not knowing earlier. Then Burks scored 33 points and grabbed 10 boards against Texas. He was catching fire. In the Big 12 Tournament, Burks had his virtuoso performance of the season, scoring 29 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and dishing 6 assists in an opening round victory over Iowa State.
It wasn't just the numbers that were staggering. Burks had elevated his game yet again, cementing himself as the clear leader of that Colorado team. Burks turned himself into one of the best finishers in the nation, artfully sinking impossible lay-ups, oftentimes while getting fouled in the process. He looked like a man among boys. It became a foregone conclusion: Burks was ready for the NBA.
Burks' NBA dream will be realized tonight, it's now just a matter of when. His detractors point to his thin frame and questionable 3-point shooting as negatives on his resume. Those types of critiques are nothing new for Burks. He's heard it all before. But he hasn't let that stop him from reaching his dreams, which began right here in Grandview.
Tonight, Alec's mom Dina will know the impact that all those rebounds she caught for her son, and all the AAU tournaments she took Alec to, had on his life. And Alec's older brother Steve, who played pick-up games at The View with his "little" brother, will know those paid off as well.
Earlier this year, Burks left a message with the Advocate for his fans back home.
"I appreciate everything from you guys in Grandview and I'll keep doing my best."
We here in Grandview have a message for Burks too. If his best is anything close to what we've already seen, it will be plenty to make him a success in the NBA.
The NBA Draft begins at 6 p.m. June 23 on ESPN. Check out www.jcadvocate.com as well as our Facebook page for draft day tweets regarding Alec Burks.