Burrell brings experience to Bobcats

Zach Smart

Scott Burrell sported an Eddie Murphy permasmile, coupled with the occasional outburst of laughter while fielding a barrage of questions at his new office at the TD Banknorth Sports Complex in his hometown of Hamden.

Prior to the interview, he invited a Quinnipiac PR man in for the fun. Ken Sweeten, the newly appointed Sports Information Director, took Burrell-the first athlete to be selected in the first round of both the NBA and MLB drafts-up on his offer.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll stick around and hear the Scott Burrell story,” said Sweeten, who is also a Hamden native.

“I’m going to warn you though,” responded Burrell, “It’s a boring one.”

In a world where the egos of athletes and coaches can only be measured in whale-size units, Burrell is as down to earth as a crawling insect.

There’s nothing, however, that’s boring or mediocre about the only Northeast Conference assistant coach with a fan-constructed YouTube clip. Enter his name on YouTube and the video pops right up, with footage of Burrell burying a three from the right corner, throwing down an emphatic two-handed jam and sending an opponents’ shot to the eighth row during his days with the then-Charlotte Hornets.

While sitting desk-side at his office, a glistening chunk of metal on Burrell’s index finger makes its presence felt. The ring-which could probably return Donald Trump-like numbers on eBay- signifies his role on the 1998 Chicago Bulls NBA championship team.

“I think that was really the pinnacle of my NBA career,” said Burrell, reflecting on his experiences playing under Phil Jackson and alongside Michael Jordan.

Burrell was hired over the summer, as part of a rejuvenated coaching staff that replaces Joe DeSantis-who was fired in March after an 11 year tenure as head coach of the Bobcats.

Though he’s not a card-shop name like Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton or Rudy Gay, Burrell remains one of the finest players ever to play at UConn.

During his stay at Storrs, the 6-foot-7 Burrell emerged as the first NCAA player to score 1,500 points, register 750 rebounds, 300 steals and 275 assists. A dominant three-sport athlete at Hamden High, Burrell opted to play basketball at UConn, rather than reporting to camp with the Seattle Mariners-who selected Burrell after his senior year of high school.

Burrell, who coached the Colorado 14ers in the NBA developmental league with former Hornet teammate Joe Wolfe, has helped bring in a revitalized recruiting class this season.

“I think we’ve got a great class coming in, especially given the little time we had to put it together,” he said

Among the key off-season acquisitions are a pair of brothers-Jeremy and Evann Baker. The Baker boys, a pair of tough and electric guards from the Washington, D.C.-area, should make an immediate impact for the Bobcats this season.

Jeremy, a combo guard and lock-down defender-has played alongside and against teammate and reigning team MVP DeMario Anderson-a super-athletic wing who averaged 18 points in NEC play last season, during their time on the Maryland high school and AAU circuit.

Burrell expects big things from the team, but acknowledges that it might take time for them to develop chemistry.

Burrell’s detour back to Hamden came unexpectedly, as he contacted head coach Tom Moore after learning of the vacant position.

After spending the last few years of his career overseas, the 36-year-old Burrell is home in Hamden and here to stay.

“I love teaching and I love teaching basketball,” said Burrell in an interview with the New Haven Register, right after jumping aboard the staff.

“I’m going to be able to help players both on and off the court. I can’t wait to get started.”

While there’s mounting anticipation for the 2007-08 season, one game might hold more significance than any other for Burrell.

Quinnipiac meets UConn at the Hartford Civic Center on Dec. 16. Burrell will be reunited with his former coach, Jim Calhoun, who he still maintains a close relationship with.

“It should be fun,” said Burrell. “It’s almost going to be like a homecoming for me. I’m looking forward to it.”