Holding it together
Xavier's Burrell headlines this year's Glue Guy squad
Posted: Tuesday March 18, 2008 12:22PM; Updated: Tuesday March 18, 2008 12:54PM
Three years ago, Stanley Burrell, a 6-foot-3 guard at Xavier, scored 12.7 points per game, making him just the third freshman in school history to lead the team in scoring. As a sophomore, Burrell raised that average to 14.4. Last season, it was 12.4. Now, however, Burrell is scoring just 9.9 points per game for the Musketeers, the fewest of his career. So he's having an off year, right?
Wrong. Burrell is having a great year -- and for all the right reasons. He has curtailed his penchant for careless passes. He has kept his emotions in check while still infusing his team with energy and leadership. He has honed his instincts for figuring out just what his team needs from him and then delivering it. Most of all, he has made himself into arguably the finest perimeter defensive player in the country. Earlier this month, he ended the conference season as the runaway choice as the Atlantic 10's defensive player of the year.
Heading into the regular-season's final weekend , Xavier was ranked eighth in the AP poll, its highest ever ranking this late in the season. The Musketeers have already set a new school mark for wins. With five players averaging double-figure scoring, the Musketeers have been an exemplar of teamwork and balance, and Burrell has stood out for his willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win -- even if it means scoring less.
In other words, he has been the ultimate Glue Guy.
Since this is the week where teams are put to the ultimate test, we here at Glue Central have bestowed upon Burrell our highest honorific: the captaincy of the 2008 SI All-Glue team. The tradition of creating this team began in 2000 with SI's NCAA tournament preview issue, when my esteemed colleague Alexander Wolff penned a worthy paean to the undervalued but never underappreciated players who do all the proverbial little things -- you know, the ones that don't show up on a stat sheet -- to give their teams that championship edge.
Burrell is a fitting standard bearer to carry the torch of the All-Glue captaincy. His role as defensive stopper has not come easily. According to Xavier coach Sean Miller, during his first three years Burrell took only one charge. So far this season, Burrell has 10. Miller did not explicitly ask Burrell to take on this role. Burrell simply sensed it needed to happen.
"As a freshman, he was lost on defense," Miller says. "He didn't feel comfortable taking charges. He'd just get out of the way. Toward the end of last year, I asked our team who was going to be our defensive stopper next year, and he just took it personally. Now, he's defending at the highest level I've been around for a perimeter guy."
There are an awful lot of prominent players who have mysteriously lost their shooting touch while being guarded by Burrell this season: Dayton's Brian Roberts (12-for-32 shooting combined in three games), Indiana's Eric Gordon (4-for-12), Tennessee's Chris Lofton (3-for-12), Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn (3-for-11), LaSalle's Darnell Harris (2-for-9) and Virginia's Sean Singletary (5-for-12). After holding Rhode Island guard Jimmy Baron to two points on 0-for-7 shooting on Feb. 18 (he came into the game averaging 15.3), Burrell said, "I'm coming out to try my best and throw a shutout every night."
"I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team," Burrell said in November. "If it's guarding a guy one night and really trying to shut him down, or just coming out and being aggressive and looking for my shot or coming out the next night looking for my teammates."
Recently, Burrell has also demonstrated versatility on offense. Though he is a natural shooting guard, he has spent much time playing the point the last few weeks while Drew Lavender, the Musketeers' starting point guard, has been limited by a sprained ankle. In a 75-48 win over Duquesne on Feb. 21, Burrell had a career-high 12 assists. He has also shown a capability for scoring when the situation calls for it, thanks to his 40-percent three-point shooting clip (up from 35.7 percent last year) and 84.4 percent shooting from the free-throw line (up from 79.0 percent).
Burrell is such a tireless worker outside of practice that Miller has had to ask him to dial back his individual work so he wouldn't wear himself out. Yet, he continues to wear his emotions on his sleeve. That was apparent last week when he ripped the league's coaches for not putting a single Xavier player on the league's all-conference first team, even though the Musketeers won the A 10 by three games. "This league is pathetic," Burrell told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "You've got the best team and nobody on the first team all-conference team? It's ridiculous. ... Those guys decided to be here and play team ball. And they get left out for that? For being unselfish? It's not right, man. I don't care what I got. That defensive player of the year? That's my team award."
If Burrell wants consider his All-Glue captaincy a team award as well, that would be fine with us. Thanks to him, there's no situation too sticky for Xavier to overcome.