Burns growing into role as Terps' middle big man As center succeeds, football just memory

January 05, 1992|By Milton Kent

On Wednesday, while many sports fans were seeing Penn State rout Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl and Miami roll over Nebraska in the Federal Express Orange Bowl, Evers Burns was watching, too.

Watching, but not wondering.

When he attended Woodlawn High School, Burns, 6 feet 8, 247 pounds, was a pretty good football player.

Good enough to play defensive end and tight end, where he caught 29 passes for 15 touchdowns and averaged just more than 20 yards a reception as a senior.

Good enough to earn high school All-America honors and to attract more than a few scholarship honors from some not-too-shabby football schools.

Such as Penn State, of the No. 3 ranking and Joe Paterno.

Such as Miami, of the flashy reputation and four national titles in nine years.

For three years, some folks have been suggesting that Burns, a junior, would have been better served if he had chosen football over his present line -- playing center for the University of Maryland basketball team.

"That's a quandary for Evers, and it always will be," said Dr. Emmett C. Burns, his father, the pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn. "He loves the rough and tough hitting of football, but he also loves the finesse of basketball."

But, for Evers, the choice was simple.

"People have been saying all along that I should have played football," he said. "I think I'm doing fine now. Once I made my decision, I never questioned it. It's turned out really well, and I think I made the right decision."

This season, the numbers back up that decision. With the exception of do-it-all guard Walt Williams, Burns has become the most productive Maryland player through the first 10 games of this season, averaging 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds.

But Burns' choice of basketball didn't always look like the best one during his first two seasons at Maryland.

He got significant playing time as a freshman, learning behind future NBA players Tony Massenburg, now with the Charlotte Hornets, and the Phoenix Suns' Jerrod Mustaf.

Burns produced when he played, scoring 12 points in 13 minutes against Jacksonville, 14 points in 16 minutes against George Mason and 17 points in 18 minutes against Alcorn State.

Last season, with Massenburg and Mustaf gone, but Cedric Lewis in front of him at center, Burns got more time, and though his scoring and rebounding increased, his productivity seemed to trail off a bit. He scored in double figures only five times in the ACC season and pulled down more than five rebounds twice during league games.

In addition, he fouled out of four games, without playing more than 21 minutes in any of the four. In one loss at Duke, Burns was disqualified despite playing only eight minutes, averaging one foul every 1.6 minutes of playing time.

So, there was some speculation that Burns, who broke his elbow during a summer pickup game, might not start in the middle this season, but that Old Dominion transfer Chris Kerwin, because of his height (6-10) and inside scoring touch, would be the starter.

"I heard it everyday," said Burns. "I heard that I'd be coming off the bench. I heard that I was going to be a role player. I heard all that stuff. Evidently, I didn't let it affect me. It didn't even faze me."

"Right now, he feels vindicated and assured that he made the right choice," said Burns' father. "He's starting, and that gives him the competitive edge. I hope that he will play on a national championship team. That's not out of the realm of possibility. And even if that does not materialize, he will achieve his goal and graduate."

Burns' scoring average is second on the squad to Williams' 22.0. Burns also is shooting 54 percent, and he has boosted his free-throw percentage from 49 percent going into this season to a more respectable 71 percent.

"When I got older, I got more mature," said Burns. "I know if the double-team came, to pass back out. I know not to rush my shot and to just play ball. I just got more aware."

"With Walt getting a lot of the attention, Evers' play hasn't got all the notice it deserves, but we know what he's done," said Maryland coach Gary Williams.

Burns is giving the team five more points a game than Lewis did last season -- including a career-high 22 last weekend against Rutgers, 20 against American and 19 against Louisville. And his 7.9 rebounds per game are just below Lewis' 8.3 average last season.

Burns, who also averages 1.0 block, can't match Lewis in that category. Lewis was second in the nation last year with 5.1 blocks per game. But Burns' offense is helping to compensate.

"What Cedric gave us was great shot blocking," said Gary Williams. "Evers is giving us more of a scoring presence in the middle, and he's rebounding just fine."

"I knew what I could do," said Burns. "Coach Williams is giving me the opportunity to do it. He put the faith in me to do what I had to do. He told me to go out and play hard."

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