Burns, with desire: Terps forward lifts game

December 28, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

College Park -- The conversations took place over the cours of last summer. On the half-dozen occasions when they met, Len Elmore would talk to Evers Burns about his upcoming senior season at the University of Maryland, about raising the level of his game.

This was not only a case of a former Terrapins basketball star giving advice to a burgeoning one, or even of a first-year player agent speaking to a prospective client. Elmore and Burns always have had a deeper relationship, starting with the fact that their mothers are first cousins.

"Lenny tells me -- like my brothers tell me -- that I have to be a leader," Burns said last week. "That means being consistent, playing to win, instead of playing not to lose. I just listen to him as I do to my big brothers."

"I didn't want it to sound like a lecture, and I knew that the most influential people for him have always been his mom and dad," Elmore said recently. "But, at the same time, I wanted him to know that I had gone through some of the same things he's going through now."

One of those things is proving the experts wrong. In Elmore's case, it happened 19 years ago. After he was bothered as a junior by a knee injury brought on by extra weight, some BTC believed that Elmore's talents had maxed out, that he lacked the motivation to become a great college player.

Many thought the same about Burns, that he might have reached his limits last season. As a junior, he averaged 15.9 points and 7.1 rebounds. Even Elmore wondered how much Burns had benefited from the presence of Walt Williams and if the All-America guard's departure to the NBA would have an adverse affect.

"One of the things he and I talked about before the season was playing without Walt," Elmore recalled. "I told him he was going to lose six points off his scoring average if he didn't work on some parts of his game. Darned if he didn't find a way."

It shouldn't have come as a big surprise, because the 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward from Woodlawn has spent his Maryland career silencing those who wondered whether he should have been here in the first place. Still, the first portion of his senior season has been something of a revelation.

Going into today's 8 p.m. game against Louisville (2-3) at Cole Field House, Burns has improved in nearly every aspect of his game. His strength and stamina have increased. His shooting and rebounding have been more consistent. His personal stats have gone up along with his pro stock.

"Last year gave me a lot of confidence," Burns said. "I knew I could be an impact player on this level. Coach [Gary] Williams gave me the confidence. Walt gave me the confidence. But I knew that I would have to improve this year and that my focus on each game would have to be better."

With the exception of the second half of last week's game against Towson State and the first half of Saturday night's 103-63 victory over Morgan State, the focus has been obvious. He leads the Terps with 21.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, while shooting a team-high 59 percent from the field.

Along with senior guard Kevin McLinton, Burns is the unquestioned leader of this young, talented Maryland team. After spending the past two games in foul trouble, Burns will have to be on the court tonight when Maryland (6-1) tries to extend its five-game winning streak by beating the Cardinals.

"He's just gotten tougher with his game," said Gary Williams. "He's doing more of the offensive rebounding and the other dirty work that goes along with it. And he's putting in a lot more time on his game than he did his first three years."

Evidence of that came Thursday morning. While most of his teammates still were lounging around the dorm or already home to start celebrating Christmas with their families, Burns came to Cole Field House to work on his free-throw shooting. Shooting 100 free throws a day has become as much a ritual for Burns as brushing his teeth.

An inconsistent free-throw shooter for most of his career, Burns is a respectable 32 of 43 from the line this season.

"If you look at the great players,like Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley, they spend a lot of extra time working on their games," said Burns, who lists the Phoenix Suns' Barkley as his role model. "I have to work hard and set an example for the younger guys."

It is not merely altruism that pushes Burns, because there is much at stake for him this season. Suddenly, his game is being analyzed by NBA scouts. Though a career in Europe still looms as stronger possibility, Burns will get a hard look from the NBA because of his offensive skills, including good hands and a reliable jumper out to 18 feet.

Not bad for a player who was better known as a tight end in high school, a player who didn't start at Woodlawn until his senior year and then didn't exactly dominate the competition in basketball-weak Baltimore County.

Burns' father, Emmett Burns, a high-ranking National Association for the Advancement of Colored People official who is a candidate to succeed the retiring Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks as executive director of the organization, said that the youngest of his three sons never has backed away from a challenge, no matter how long the odds.

"Evers is a very confident person. I don't think he ever lost any sleep over it [people doubting him]," Emmett Burns said. "It's fulfilling this year to see him really blossom."

Burns' stats

=1

Evers Burns' career statistics at Maryland:

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. FG FT

Season .. G .. .. Pts. .. .. Reb. .. .. pct. .. pct

'89-90 .. 28.. .. 4.3 .. .. 2.7 .. .. 54 .. .. 23

'90-91 .. 28 .. ..7.7 .. .. 3.7 .. .. 43 .. .. 57

'91-92 .. 29 .. ..15.9 .. .. 7.1 .. .. 52 .. .. 64

'92-93 .. .7.. .. 21.5 .. .. 8.7 .. .. 59 .. .. 74

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