A College Basketball Resolution For 2014: Get To Know Nevada’s Deonte BurtonPosted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2014
There’s a chance, Mr. or Mrs. Diehard college hoops fan, that you don’t know who Deonte Burton is. No, we aren’t talking about the Marquette swingman (although that might also be a conversation worth having, after he authored this late entry for the dunk of 2013). The Deonte Burton you need to know had produced a trio of productive individual campaigns before this 2013-14 season, but here in his final go-around, both the volume and efficiency of that production has exploded. Finding a national spotlight can be difficult when you are starring on a mediocre team in a self-proclaimed “little city” (even if it may be the “biggest little city in the world”), but it’s time for folks outside of Reno to start taking note of Nevada’s explosive senior. And if the surprising Wolfpack’s newfound winning ways somehow manage to keep up? There will be no choice but to appreciate the player at the center of the surge.
After a 74-71 victory over UNLV in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, Nevada is suddenly alone atop the Mountain West at 3-0. The quick start marks a drastic reversal of fortune for a team that won just three conference games all of last season, and entered 2014 with an entirely underwhelming 5-8 overall record. Wins over San Jose State (on the road) and Wyoming set the stage for the Wolfpack’s victory in the battle for the Silver State, but this latest triumph was far from guaranteed early. UNLV built an 11-point lead late in the first half, but in those critical pre-intermission minutes when second-half momentum is always on the line, Burton snatched all that impetus the Rebels had previously held. In the span of 80 seconds, three consecutive contested, step-back Burton jumpers found the bottom of the net, and the Wolfpack headed to the locker room down just two. It was as acute a pivot point in momentum as you will find, and it propelled Nevada to an 11-0 run out of the locker room. This spurt created some permanent separation, as the UNLV deficit wouldn’t shrink to below six again until the meaningless final seconds.
UNLV head man Dave Rice later said that he thought those three Burton buckets “were really the difference in the game.” Hard to disagree with the contention, but Burton’s excellence went far beyond that stretch. He finished the night with 29 points (12-of-20 from the field), five rebounds, and three assists (against no turnovers), but it was his seismic, arena-clearing throw-down that later had even SportsCenter paying homage.
The explosiveness alone may make Burton a must-watch, but the diminutive (he’s listed at 6’1”) lead guard’s skill package goes well beyond his hops. Burton’s assist percentage has been above 20 percent in all four of his collegiate campaigns (and in the top-200 nationally, until this season), and despite relatively pedestrian three-point percentages this season and last (33% and 30%, respectively), his quick-release stroke belies that of a significantly better shooter (he also shot above 35 percent from deep in each of his first two years in Reno). Throw in some intangibles for good measure – Burton is a clear leader incapable of hiding his fire and passion on the floor (in the good way) – and it’s no shock that the senior is popping up on mock draft boards everywhere: NBAdraft.net currently has Burton going #32 overall in its 2014 mock draft. With every dazzling performance, his future potential is becoming just as apparent as the current production. For the season, Burton has averaged 22.3 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest.
The Nevada schedule now begins to toughen up, as top-100 outfits Utah State and Boise State will be arriving in Reno over the course of the next week. Without aspiring to play the role of the grim reaper here, I should submit that it’s entirely possible that we witnessed the high-water mark of this Wolfpack season on Wednesday night. Anyone who took in the Burton show at Thomas & Mack surely joins me in hoping Nevada can maintain some relevance moving forward, but there have to be doubts about the Wolfpack’s supporting cast, and the rough-and-tumble Mountain West takes few prisoners. But no matter the final destination of this Nevada season, official notice has been served: Reno is home to one of the finest players in all of college hoops. In fact, you might even call Deonte Burton the biggest little man in college basketball.