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Winning Attitudes : Woodbridge's Burgess Becomes a Team Player


IRVINE — The crown fit after all.

Back in November, Woodbridge center Chris Burgess decided only two things would happen his senior year: The Warriors were going to win the Southern Section Division II-AA championship, and he was going be player of the year--in that order.

Both goals were met. A stirring 56-50 victory over Villa Park in the title game got the 6-10 Burgess the title he had sought since transferring to Woodbridge from Mater Dei three years ago.

And today he is recognized as the 1997 Times Orange County boys' basketball player of the year from among a plethora of worthy candidates, including Mater Dei's Kevin Augustine, Villa Park's Eric Chenowith, Sonora's Ben Jones and Brea Olinda's Sean Wink.

Yet the biggest thing to happen to Burgess occurred on and off the court. "I think I grew up a lot, starting [last] summer," Burgess said. "Having to make decisions like where I wanted to go to college [he will attend Duke], playing basketball against the best players in the nation, made me grow up. It made me focus on what I wanted to do the next four years."

The maturity he brought to the court was reflected in Woodbridge's team play. Burgess was still a dominant offensive force, averaging 22.6 points and 12 rebounds.But his seasonal point total of 724 was 69 points fewer than last year, and his 77 assists and 148 blocked shots were double his 1996 totals. And Burgess also had 384 rebounds, easily surpassing his 261 boards last season.

Simply put, Burgess was more than willing to share the ball with teammates Brandon Beeson, William Stovall, Peter Martinelli and Jason Tilton, and he made sure he worked on the defensive end.

"It was a fun season," Burgess said. "The best thing about it has been winning.

"This year, I know I wouldn't be scoring as much because Brandon and William were going to step up and help me out. We were all having a good time, playing and winning. We've learned it's not just how well you played, but if you did what it takes to win."

In Woodbridge Coach John Halagan's eyes, Burgess' maturation has been a three-year process.

"I will always remember that he came in a shy, introverted kid and leaves as a more mature guy who could accept responsibility and put ego aside for the benefit of the team," Halagan said.

"As touted as he was nationally, he never changed. He did not condescend to his teammates. He never put himself above the team. He knew this year he had to be under a microscope. We got letters all year on his behavior in games and the majority were good."

Other coaches noticed too.

"I'd bet if he was 6-4 he'd still be a Division I player," Villa Park Coach Kevin Reynolds said. "He still needs to work on his defense some, and be a better passer, but I believe he is willing to work on his game. That's part of his maturation now. I'm not sure he'd be as willing a year ago. But this year all his talk was of the team, of 'we' and 'our goals'; as a junior it was more 'I need to do this.' "

"Every year not only his basketball game got better, but he made strides in the way he handled himself," Santa Margarita Coach Jerry DeBusk said. "The thing that made him most dangerous this year, he wasn't trying to do it all. He had better understanding of using teammates as a strength. It made it harder to deal with him because he involved everyone else."

The 28-4 record Woodbridge posted included a 20-game winning streak, the Sea View League championship and the section Division II-AA championship. But it wasn't a completely smooth run.

There was an incident at Irvine in January. Although Woodbridge won handily, the Vaqueros' home crowd was riding Burgess. As the game wound down, Burgess made gestures and pointed at the scoreboard.

Irvine Coach Steve Keith did not appreciate Burgess's behavior then, and hasn't forgotten it. While respectful of Burgess' abilities--"He is one of the most talented 6-10 guys you will see in skill and mobility"--Keith said Burgess should have been above taunting.

"Anything I say smacks of sour grapes," Keith said. "But I would be less than honest if I did not say I was disappointed in how he acted."

Burgess said he regretted his actions after the game, and tried to use it as another lesson learned.

"I did not make an obscene gesture. But I did write a letter of apology to the Irvine superintendent for my actions because I know I did not set a good example."

That, too, is a part of growing up.

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