Burtt has been the key to Iona's continued success, which began when Valvano recruited Ruland for the 1977-78 season. Since Kennedy's 15-14 baptism in 1980-81, the year Ruland left school prematurely after being declared ineligible for signing with an agent, the Gaels have accumulated a 66-25 record.
Basketball success has helped solve an identity crisis for Iona, which is run by the Irish Christian Brothers. The school got its name from an island off the west coast of Scotland that became an evangelical center in medieval Europe. No longer do Iona coaches have to endure the following exchange:
Hotel clerk: Your firm, please, sir?
Coach: Iona College.
Clerk: Buddy, I don't care what you own. I asked you where you worked.
Kennedy and his young, street-smart assistants regularly recruit inner-city talent ignored by other major schools. Kennedy and Williamson both take credit for supplying Valvano with his now-famous signature line, "No question." But Williamson is most convincing when he says, "Hey, V got it from me. No question."
Which is also what any follower of Eastern hoops would say when asked, "Can Steve Burtt play?" There has been little doubt about that since late in Burtt's freshman season when he went for 18 points against St. Bonaventure. Burtt has failed to hit double figures only four times since that game. Along the way he has outplayed such pros-to-be as Marquette's Doc Rivers (now an Atlanta Hawk) and Arizona State's Byron Scott (now an L.A. Laker). Last Wednesday night Burtt scored 26 points in an 81-79 loss to LaSalle to become the leading alltime scorer among New York—and New Jersey—area college players.
Burtt's specialty is the penetrating jumper that draws body contact and produces three-point plays. Thus his 62% foul shooting is something that needs to be improved. Expert at changing his shot in midair, he excels in a running game but has had to develop a reliable outside shot to combat the box-and-one zones geared to stop him.
With his success has come a softer manner that allows Burtt to smile at well-wishers and joke with casual acquaintances. But for pregame preparation he puts himself in a mood resembling a hypnotic trance, and his temper can still flash. Against St. Peter's, Burtt decked Peacock center Anthony Green with a left jab as the two exchanged words on the way to the locker room at halftime. "I felt bad about it after," says Burtt. "But the guy wouldn't get out of my face. I can't let somebody hurt me first."
"The first time I met Steve," says injured Iona center Bob Coleman, "I thought, 'This guy is going to be very mean to me.' There's a mystique about him. The way he carries himself. He's ultra-intense. On campus, people are afraid to go up to him. He looks like Mr. Mean, Monsterhead. Steve could be a great lawyer, because he can definitely get the Iron Jaw."