Alec Burks, left, scored 779 points as a sophomore this season, a record for any CU player.
No one was really too surprised, but today’s announcement at the Dal Ward Center confirmed what Buffaloes fans have feared for over a year. Sophomore Alec Burks will enter into the upcoming NBA draft instead of playing a third year at the University of Colorado.
Burks leaves CU as the best men’s basketball player since Chauncey Billups (who also left after his sophomore year back in 1997). Despite his school record of 779 points in a single season, Burks will be most remembered by CU fans for two things: his failure to carry the Buffs to a tournament victory, and his choke in the NIT semifinals.
Not bringing a second NCAA tournament win to Boulder (Billups and the ’97 team have the only tourney win in school history) isn’t only Burks’ fault, though. The Buffs were snubbed of a tournament spot by the selection committee, so Burks never really got the chance to prove himself in the Big Dance anyway.
As for the NIT semifinal game against Alabama on March 29th, Burks is definitely the scapegoat. He brought the ball down with just a few seconds left, down by one. He shot a jumper as time expired, and the ball clanked off the rim to give Alabama a 62-61 win.
Some people don’t really care about the loss (it’s just the NIT, isn’t it?), but you can’t help but feel bad for CU’s second-best player since Billups: Cory Higgins. He finished the night with 2,001 career points as a Buff, tied with Richard Roby. If Burks had made the final shot, then Higgins would have almost certainly got a bucket in the championship game to take sole possession of the record.
It’s not a huge deal, but it would have been nice for Higgins to leave with the scoring record at the school. However, Higgins is graduating in about a month, and Alec Burks will take his multi-millions and head to a locked-out professional league.
That brings up this question: does Burks owe it to Colorado to stay one more season? This is always a hot topic for top draft prospects that use a college just to develop for a year or two and leave before playing the usual four years. This question is even more valid now. The NBA will almost certainly lock out this summer, and there may not be a 2011-12 season. This means Burks might not even play in a game next year.
From Burks’ perspective, it’s easy to understand his decision. He has to make the money to support his mother, and if he returns for his junior year, he’s only risking a career-threatening injury. Another year at college won’t bump him up the draft board too much.
Now, Burks can lock up a contract and guarantee himself a big paycheck. He has to fore-go his chances at NCAA tournament success to do so, but this is certainly his best bet to make the millions he’s dreamed of.
Besides all the issues with salaries and lockouts (what the game has sadly become about), I’m going to try and remember Burks for what happened while he was at CU: his Big 12 Freshman of the Year Award last year; his career-high 36 points against No.8 Missouri; and his jaw-dropping fade-away three-pointers and 360 degree tomahawk dunks that amazed us for two whole years.
Thanks for the memories, Alec, do your alma mater proud in the pros.
Charlie writes about the Buffs, Broncos, Rockies and Nuggets for http://truefancolorado.com. You can follow Charlie on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/charlie123517.