By time Burns gets to Phoenix . . . Ex-Terp's stock surely will be rising

April 22, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

If Evers Burns had been told four years ago that he'd be trying out for the pros after college, he might have figured it would be as a tight end at an NFL combine instead of as a power forward at an NBA pre-draft camp. As a senior at Woodlawn High School, Burns had been recruited by such football powers as Oklahoma and Penn State.

Two months ago, Burns, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound senior power forward at Maryland, didn't even have an invitation to any of the basketball postseason tryouts.

"I was disappointed," Burns recalled last week. "I thought my numbers the last two years spoke for themselves. But I knew that I'd get a shot somewhere."

Burns eventually received an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational in Portsmouth, Va., and he was one of the surprises of the camp two weeks ago. He was one of five players selected to be included in an elite group headed for this week's Desert Classic in Phoenix. Former Dunbar and Florida State star Sam Cassell also will be in Phoenix.

What seemed like pure fantasy early in his college career -- the idea of making a living playing basketball, possibly in the NBA -- suddenly has become a more viable option as Burns' stock continues to rise.

"I'm not saying that Evers can definitely play in the NBA, but why not?" said Marty Blake, the NBA scouting guru who invited Burns to Portsmouth and Phoenix. "Most guys are better suited to the NBA, and he might be one of them."

Playing against competition that included some former Atlantic Coast Conference rivals -- including Kevin Thompson of North Carolina State -- Burns had 47 points and 15 rebounds in two games at Portsmouth and shot 19 of 31 from the field.

His outside shot impressed some NBA scouts and general managers -- as well as scouts for foreign teams. "He has secured himself a position in basketball -- whether it's the NBA, the CBA or overseas," said Washington Bullets assistant general manager Chuck Douglas. "This kid has an opportunity before him."

"Going against guys like Christian Laettner and Tom Gugliotta for three years and guys like George Lynch for four, I'm not going to be intimidated out there," said Burns, who will meet up with ex-North Carolina star Lynch and another former ACC nemesis, Douglas Edwards of Florida State, this week in Phoenix. "I'm just going to play my game."

The game Burns played in Portsmouth, and the one he will take to Phoenix, is a bit different than the one he was asked to play at Maryland. Coaching the undersized Terrapins, Gary Williams needed Burns to use his strength inside -- something he didn't always do.

What impressed the scouts, said Douglas, was Burns' ability to hit the mid-range jump shot.

"He shoots it very well from that 15- to 17-foot distance for a guy 6-8, 250," said Douglas. "If you have one facet of your game that sticks out like that, you'll have an opportunity."

Said Burns: "I feel, with all respect to Coach Williams, he understood and I understood that we needed the bulk inside. He knew I could shoot the outside shot. He'd see me working on it after practice. At a camp like Portsmouth, I knew that if I missed, I had somebody like Conrad McRae [of Syracuse] to rebound inside."

What also surprised Douglas was Burns' physical conditioning. Douglas had seen that Burns often was hindered by a few extra pounds.

"He came in as fit as I've ever seen him," said Douglas. "He even looked like he had spent some time in the weight room since the end of the season. He was just very active. I think he came in with the mind-set that this camp was extremely important to his future."

Burns recommitted himself to getting into better shape after Maryland's season. It was a season in which Burns averaged career highs of 18.5 points and 8.9 rebounds, but was criticized for disappearing against better competition.

It got so bad that one scout, Gene Tormohlen of the Los Angeles Lakers, went on a radio broadcast during halftime of a Maryland-Clemson game in late January and basically said that Burns had no chance of playing in the NBA.

But Burns changed some minds in Portsmouth, where he made a positive impression off the court as well. After the games were over, Burns approached Blake and thanked him for the opportunity. "He was one of the few players who ever did that here," said Blake. "He was one of the nicest kids I've ever met."

While making the NBA remains a long shot, the odds of Burns' being drafted have increased. Others have improved their chances at pre-draft camps -- former Terrapin Jerrod Mustaf became the No. 1 pick of the New York Knicks in 1990 based largely on his performance at one of the top camps -- and Burns can do the same.

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