Coach Bob Burton sat down with TitanCentral.com recently for an exclusive interview where we discuss this past year, the players who made the season possible, recruiting, schedules, contracts and what's in store for next season.
TitanCentral.com: You've been coaching college basketball for 25 seasons now and you were quoted as saying this year's team was your All-time favorite. Now that you've had a few weeks to digest the season and the team, do you still feel this team was your favorite?
Coach Burton: Definitely. This was one of my favorite teams of all-time. I've never had a team overcome as much adversity as this team did and then to play so well. Starting the season and waiting for Jamaal Brown and Ralphy Holmes to become eligible and then with all the injuries starting with Lloyd Walls. As I have stated many times before, it was like three different seasons.
We start the season without Ralphy, Jamaal, Lloyd, who we thought was going to be our starting center and Andrew Awad, who played a little with us up in Connecticut. Awad was a pretty decent little player and would have helped us but with his cancer returning, never got a chance to show it.
Then we lose Hardy Asprilla and have to learn to play without him, and finally, during the NIT, we lose John Clemmons and then Ralphy again. I thought the team overcame a lot and were so competitive and entertaining. I have never seen a team overcome that much and still win 21 games. Just amazing.
TitanCentral.com: I have seen you downplay your coaching in the papers but TitanCentral.com isn't falling for it. We have been following Titan basketball for as long as you have been coaching college players and we have never seen a coach at Cal State Fullerton who has such control over a game and who motivates the players to play so hard and with such passion. So we are calling you out coach, why do you down-play the impact you have made on this team?
Coach Burton: Well, I appreciate that. I think this team more than any other, I kind of stepped back on and opened up more than any other I've ever coached. I just felt this was the best thing I could do with this group of kids and it was really healthy to let them play at such a free-pace. I have always liked to play fast regardless of what team I've had, but mostly the freedom they had to shoot.
I think a lot of times it appeared that I just let them go but ultimately you just want them to play together. With this style, you realized there were going to be bad shot ...
I know Mike Krzyzewski said this and this was one of his concepts. If you watch Duke play, they take some incredibly crazy shots and his deal is he's going to let them play, open it up. He knows they are going to take bad shots but the idea is they are going to play 100% on defense.
Now, I don't think that's our case but I think there is no doubt that the best way for us to play this team was to play fast and play loose and to try to spread the court out and use our athletic ability.
I think that worked out real well for us ... especially when we kept losing guys.
TitanCentral.com: Is there one moment or one game which stands out among the best? And on the flip-side was there one moment or game where you were disappointed?
Coach Burton: The Oregon State game was one of the most ... I haven't been in too many like that. It was absolutely an incredible win. I put it on for the first time last week and watched it and sat there on the edge of my seat. I was thinking, "Are we really going to win this thing?"
I don't know if I have ever had a team go into an environment like that and just played with so much heart. Of course the key was Bobby Brown, starting it out and playing fearless up there, getting 21 points and 5 threes, just stabbing a dagger right in front of them ...and the character the whole team had ...Oregon State was an incredible win for us.
Before that, obviously, it was Utah State at home. I think we had lost 21 out of the last 22 or something like that. I think that was a real turning point in our program. We really beat a good team and I felt they were the best team in the league. I said that all along and felt they were going to win the Big West Tournament, if we didn't. I told Stew Morrill that when we were up in Utah and he looked at me kind of crazy.
USF was also up there, especially when you consider the lack of time we had to recover. It's really hard to narrow it down, there were so many great wins. I mean, I was stunned just walking off the court whether it was at Irvine or at Northridge, it was absolutely amazing game after game watching how these kids competed. At times you thought you were out of it and they just never quit.
The most disappointing game of the year was Georgetown. Certainly not because of the way our guys played but because of the circumstances. I felt our guys could play with anybody at that stage, that we were just a real nightmare to opposing teams, but we needed Ralphy Holmes in there. You needed a John Clemmons to give you the minutes he was giving. But Ralphy was the key and so much was centered around him.When things got tough he would go get a basket for you or he would go get the rebound and put it in, he was just unbelievable.
We were so disappointed in that game, especially on national television, we didn't think that the people got a a real feel for how good we were playing at that time. Go up there with the flight situation and having to split our team up, arriving late and then not getting a chance to practice. That was kind of disappointing ...