RICHMOND, Va. – After seven days on the road, I finally had a chance to get home and spend some time with the wife. The Rams’ Sweet 16 run dominated the conversation. At one point, she said, “Bradford Burgess is playing out of his mind right now.” God, I love this woman.
More than just that fact that she enjoys dissecting Northeastern’s flex offense, I was pumped because she hit on something I had been thinking about for a couple of days, that Burgess is playing the best basketball of his life.
Since the start of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, Burgess has clearly been a different player. Statistically speaking, he’s averaging 15.7 points and 8.2 rebounds in six postseason games, improvements on his season averages of 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. Burgess has also blocked nine shots, handed out 12 assists, ripped six steals and played terrific defense in the last six games.
It’s no coincidence that Burgess’ recent outstanding play has corresponded with some of the best basketball VCU of the season. It’s rare to see a player just “turn it on” and VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart believes there’s a reason Burgess is having breakout success in the postseason.
During a challenging February in which the Rams went 3-5, Smart held a team meeting to get to the bottom of VCU’s struggles. During one exchange, senior Jamie Skeen challenged Burgess.
“He said to Brad, ‘at the beginning of the year, you were blocking shots, you were playing with all kinds of activity. We haven’t seen that of late. Where has that been?’” recalled VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart.
Not every player responds well to that type of criticism, but Burgess took Skeen’s comments to heart.
“He was right,” the soft-spoken Burgess said directly. “I wasn’t helping the team playing the way I was playing. In order to play how we’re playing now, I had to step up.”
Burgess and a couple of other Rams confirmed that the 6-6 junior was also upset that he was left off of the All-CAA teams, announced prior to the conference tournament.
With newfound motivation, Burgess is beginning to scratch his potential. Although he’s shown flashes of excellence the last three seasons, a 30-point game a Drexel, as well as a 28-point outburst at UAB come to mind, it wasn’t until recently that the Midlothian, Va. native began to consistently perform at such a high level.
“Brad has it in him to be as good as he wants to be,” Smart said. “He’s the best player in the country that’s not an all-conference player. You find me a guy that didn’t make an all-conference team that’s better than Brad and I’ll be surprised.”
If he keeps playing the way he has the last six games, Burgess may not need the All-CAA Team to validate him. Although he already earned a spot on the CAA All-Tournament squad, Burgess could steal a spot on the All-NCAA Tournament Team at this rate.
Burgess scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the CAA Championship game against Old Dominion. He scored 12 points, hauled in eight boards, blocked four shots – a couple of the highlight-reel variety – and handed out three assists in VCU’s NCAA Second Round win over Georgetown, and then scorched third-seeded Purdue for 23 points and eight boards.
“Brad is playing with great energy and great focus,” said senior guard Ed Nixon. “During the season he played like Bradford. Now he’s playing like Baby ‘Bron.”