Check it out: Burns could be a first

KEN ROSENTHAL

May 09, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Evers Burns, first-round pick.

Swallow that with your Sunday brunch.

Three months ago, the Maryland senior couldn't get invited to an NBA pre-draft camp. Now he has dominated two of them, and most scouts agree he's a lock to be picked in the second round.

One more camp remains, the free-for-all in Chicago in early June. It's possible Burns will be exposed and overmatched. Then again, it's possible he could further raise his stock, and creep into the latter part of the first round.

Evers Burns?

The guy who NBA scouts ridiculed all last season? The guy who disappeared against top ACC competition? The guy who was a better football than basketball player at Woodlawn High School?

We kid you not.

If nothing else, Burns now seems assured of big money in Europe. He's no Scottie Pippen, coming out of Central Arkansas to be a lottery pick. But considering the limited skills he displayed at Maryland, no one -- least of all Gary Williams -- expected this.

What got into Burns? Actually, it's not that mysterious. So much changed for him at the pre-draft camps in Phoenix and Portsmouth, Va. He didn't play out of position. He didn't face double-team pressure. And he didn't experience the burden of carrying an entire team.

All of those factors hindered him at Maryland, even though he led the Terps last season with 18.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. At the camps, Burns played small forward, the position for which he's best suited, given his size (6 feet 8, 248 pounds) and shooting touch.

True, he was in better condition than most -- he dropped seven pounds after the season ended, lifting weights three times a week and returning to Baltimore for pickup games against players like Sean Tyson, Sam Cassell and Kurk Lee. But that wasn't the only difference in his game.

Len Elmore, Burns' agent and second cousin, says Burns benefited from "a change in basketball atmosphere." Maryland, a team featuring five freshmen, had no other rebounders, and Kevin McLinton as its only other scorer. Burns himself admits he was overwhelmed.

"He is the type of kid that will internalize that and personalize that," says Elmore, a Maryland graduate who played 10 years in the ABA and NBA. "He was looked upon as a leader. He accepted that responsibility. But maybe he brought too much on himself."

And maybe that explains why Burns wilted against players like North Carolina's George Lynch. The thing most baffling to the Maryland coaches about Burns' postseason performance has been his aggressiveness. They wonder why it sometimes was missing last season.

"I played real hard," Burns says. "But you're playing for money right now. It's a whole different game. You want to be seen. You want to be known for playing hard. I won't say I'm playing harder. I'm just doing smarter things."

Finally, the scouts are noticing -- grudgingly. Many thought Burns deserved the MVP award in Phoenix, but it went to Indiana's Greg Graham. As Elmore says, "They wrote the kid off a while ago. Now that he's come on, they're saying, 'I don't know if he can do it in the pro game.' "

It's obviously a fair question, but Elmore adds, "He has a knack. Anybody who dismisses that knack doesn't really understand the pro game. That's what it's all about. Some things can't be taught. Evers has a knack for scoring."

What he doesn't have is a classic NBA body, but as Elmore points out, neither does Charles Barkley. Elmore admits the comparison is ridiculous, but like Barkley, Burns' long arms and wide bottom help make him an effective rebounder. And, when he's in shape, he's capable of running the floor.

The kid just keeps proving people wrong. Initially, it was thought former Maryland coach Bob Wade recruited Burns as a favor to his father Emmett, a top-ranking NAACP official in Baltimore. True or not, Burns proved deserving of his scholarship, becoming the 13th-leading scorer in Maryland history.

"I've been motivated off negative comments my four years here," Burns says. "Coming out of high school, people doubted me. I worked my way up to a starting position my junior year. They doubted me with Walt [Williams] being gone. I upped my rebounding and scoring.

"They said I wouldn't do anything at Portsmouth, and I did. They said I wouldn't do anything in Phoenix, and I did. I'm just waiting for someone to say I'm not going to do anything where I go next. I'll feed off that."

Alas, Burns is running out of critics.

0$ Only a fool would doubt him now.

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