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Ahead of the Competition : Woodbridge Center Burgess Is Good, and Looking to Get Even Better


IRVINE — Of all the accomplishments, all the points and all the accolades the county's leading scorer, Chris Burgess, has accumulated in his young life, nothing is more important than the rusting, bent rim on the blacktop courts behind the gym at Woodbridge High.

That's where Burgess, the Warriors' 6-foot-10 junior center, slammed home a monster dunk on his first day at the school.

That mangled rim is proof of just how dominating this baby-faced teenager, rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after college recruits in the county, can be with a ball in his hands.

And he has the ball in his hands often.

To say the Warrior offense centers on Burgess would be an understatement. He leads the county in scoring (25.8 points per game), ranks seventh in rebounds (10.6) and averages three blocked shots. He has taken 130 more shots (518) than the next highest leader, making 55%. The percentage is particularly astounding because he likes to shoot from the perimeter, too, where he has made about 30% of his three-point shots.

Even more astounding, in the face of criticism that he gets the ball too much, Burgess says he'd like to get the ball even more.

"I'm not perfect, but I feel that if I'm right near the basket I can make most of my shots," he said.

Apparently college coaches think so, too. UCLA Coach Jim Harrick attended a Woodbridge game. Roy Williams of Kansas and Lute Olson of Arizona sat stoically along a baseline at the Bren Center last December when Woodbridge lost to No. 2 Tustin, a game in which Burgess wasn't on his game and Tiller David Lalazarian was. Assistants from North Carolina and Duke have been in town the past couple of weeks, as have scouts for Kentucky. Utah Coach Rick Majerus visited the school last week.

College coaches are not permitted to comment on high school recruits until after they have signed letters of intent. But Woodbridge Coach John Halagan isn't bashful when asked to describe Burgess.

"Chris is the most versatile player in the county, quite possibly the best player this county has seen," he said. "The kid is a legitimate 6-10; he'll probably get a bit larger. He has the heart of a lion and he attacks the rim."

Burgess leads the Warriors (21-6) into the opening round of the Southern Section Division II-AA boys' basketball playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday against visiting Sunny Hills (10-16).

Burgess, who works with a personal trainer to increase mobility, said he has been told he reminds some of a young Tom Chambers, a former NBA standout. Cherokee Parks of the Dallas Mavericks, a star at Marina High and Duke, is another name mentioned.

Many say he resembles former Woodbridge star Adam Keefe, now with the Utah Jazz. Some old-timers, noting that UCLA would love to sign him, have said he has the same shooting ability and similar physique (right down to sore knees) as Bill Walton. Burgess takes medication twice daily to control tendinitis in his knees.

"He's more of an athlete than Adam Keefe was," Corona del Mar Coach Paul Orris said. "At the same time Keefe, and this is not to be a negative, had a lot more character on the floor. He was a gentleman. There were no demonstrations, no pointing the finger at someone. Keefe would just knock you down and beat you and then help you up, where Burgess has a lot more talent than Keefe."

Off the court, Burgess doesn't come across as a cocky, finger-in-your-face kind of player. Is he affected by all the attention? A bit. What teenager wouldn't be? Burgess claims he is just a hard worker who appreciates the scrutiny.

"It just makes me want to play harder," he said.

Friends and teammates say Burgess is a gentle giant.

"He's a great person," said Brandon Beeson, a 6-5 Woodbridge forward who has played in Burgess' shadow all season. "With all the publicity he gets, you'd think he would be cocky, but he isn't. When he's with us on campus or somewhere else, you wouldn't know that he is Chris Burgess."

Burgess, who lives not far from the Woodbridge campus, enrolled at Mater Dei in the fall of 1993 so he could play basketball with several teammates from his summer traveling team. It was a difficult call not to stay home and attend Woodbridge, where his 6-foot-4 sister, Angela, was a star for the Warriors.

The decision to attend a high school just to play basketball turned out to be a mistake.

"He missed his friends at home," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "I don't think he ever felt comfortable here."

Burgess said he understood from McKnight that he would get 10-15 minutes of playing time as a freshman, and that by the time he was a sophomore the team's offense would revolve more and more around him.

But six games into the 1993-94 season, Schea Cotton, also a freshman, transferred to Mater Dei from Bellflower St. John Bosco. That didn't sit too well with Burgess, whose playing time diminished.

It was also a problem for McKnight. When Burgess was in, he wanted the ball. Cotton was almost always in and he wanted the ball. So Burgess languished on the bench.

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