It’s fitting that the record for which Bradford Burgess might be best known is an ode to dependability. It’s been the defining quality of his unforgettable VCU career.
First Anthony Grant, then Shaka Smart, penciled Burgess in their starting lineup because they knew he would win games. It didn’t matter who was on the floor, Burgess was always one of the best guys out there. And Burgess did win, and win, and win some more. Before the season is over, he’ll likely have won more games than any other VCU player, more than 100 in all.
Burgess will likely become just the third player in VCU history with at least 1,600 points and 700 rebounds, joining Charles Wilkins and Kendrick Warren. Burgess also ranks in the top 10 on VCU’s career lists in 3-pointers, games played, minutes, steals and free throws. With a postseason run, he could eclipse national records for consecutive (142) and total (147) starts.
“He’s the Cal Ripken of college basketball,” Smart said. “Brad’s a guy, in the three years that I’ve been here, he hasn’t always been 100 percent physically, but you never know it. He doesn’t complain. He plays through minor injuries and bruises and fatigue.”
When asked before this season what he’d like his legacy at VCU to be, the soft-spoken Midlothian native said he hoped people would think of him as a winner. After watching the Rams chug through another 20-win campaign, VCU’s sixth straight and fourth in a row with Burgess, I don’t think that will be a problem.
Like his understated personality, Burgess’ game is strictly no frills. The flashiest thing about him is his unfailing reliability.
But last March, we saw Bradford Burgess come alive like never before. Playing without peer, he buried 3-pointer after 3-pointer, swooped in for rebounds and defended like his life depended on it to lead the Rams to within striking distance of a league championship, as well as the Final Four. His 26-point performance against Florida State in the Elite Eight, including his game-winning basket with 7.0 seconds left, redefined VCU postseason heroics.
Some expected his senior season to serve as an extension of that dazzling nine-game stretch in which he averaged 16 points and more than seven boards per game. But it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, Burgess suffered through the worst shooting slump of his career, a month-and-a-half long trial that could’ve sunk VCU’s season. Instead, the opposite happened. The Rams kept winning. VCU, one of the 10 youngest teams in the country, is in the hunt for the Colonial Athletic Association title, and its leading scorer lost his shooting touch for a big chunk of the season.
Even if Burgess isn’t the scorer people thought he’d become, it doesn’t really matter what the numbers say. This might still be his best season in a VCU uniform, and it has nothing to do with how many points he’s scored or how many rebound he’s grabbed.
Even when he’s struggled to put the ball in the basket, Smart has happily left him on the floor because he defends, he finds the open man, he never backs away from a challenge and he commands respect. Intangibles may not move the excite-o-meter, but they’re what separate Burgess from the pack. Even when he isn’t filling up the box score, he finds a way to win.
“He provides leadership for us,” Smart said. “He is by far the most vocal player on the floor. We do have a young team. Some of these guys don’t understand the urgency that you have to have all the time on defense with your talk. Having Brad out there helps them with that.”
Whatever Burgess is saying out there, it’s working. The Rams are enjoying one of the best defensive seasons in school history.
“His voice is very respected on this team,” said junior Darius Theus. “The way he encourages the team is just very special. I just picked that up from him on how to encourage a team and just be a great leader.”
“He just tells me to play strong, be confident in yourself,” freshman Treveon Graham said. “Never doubt yourself no matter if the ball is going in the basket or not.
Burgess’ leadership alone would have been enough to cement his legacy at VCU, but just as the Rams were set to embark on their most difficult stretch of their season, Burgess sprang to life and knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers in a win over Towson. Three days later, he displayed the steely, cold-blooded resolve that earned him the moniker “Big Shot Brad” with 24 points, including a late, game-tying 3-pointer in a win at rival Old Dominion.
“The games are counting down… I don’t have too many opportunities left in a VCU uniform,” Burgess said recently. “So I’m just trying to take advantage of every moment.”
With play like that, Burgess is prepared to write one more chapter to his spectacular career. You can depend on it.