RICHMOND, Va. – It was only appropriate that perhaps the biggest plays of VCU’s win over UMass Saturday were made by a Burgess.
After his jersey was retired in a pregame ceremony, former VCU star Bradford Burgess looked on as younger brother Jordan helped turn the tide in a pivotal 78-72 victory.
It was Bradford Burgess’ first game at the Siegel Center since he graduated in 2012. He was likely impressed with what he saw. Jordan finished with 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot. While it wasn’t the type of stat line that inspires people to hang your jersey from the rafters, it did advance the notion that Jordan is doing just fine carving out a memorable career, his way.
“There’s a tendency sometimes to dwell upon stats in measuring a player’s impact, but I think that’s a mistake with Jordan. He’s about winning. He’s about the right things,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said afterwards.
Although he wears the same No. 20 Bradford and bears a resemblance, Jordan’s game is much more rugged. There’s no veneer. He’s not the shooter Bradford was – at least not yet. No, Jordan is something different.
Jordan does, however, appear to have some of Bradford’s flair for the dramatic. Earlier this year, Jordan hit a dramatic, game-tying 3-pointer late in a win at Saint Louis. Last season, he scored 14 points in the Rams NCAA Tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin, the most ever by a VCU freshman.
On Saturday, UMass used a 12-0 burst midway through the second half to take its first lead, 48-47. The Rams were sinking fast, but Burgess hit a go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Rams a 50-48 lead with 11:12 left. Moments later, he blocked a Maxie Esho layup attempt that would’ve tied the game. Then, a rebound, and an assist, and the tide had shifted. Burgess keyed what would eventually become an 11-2 run, and he did it mostly with the type of lunchpail plays for which he has become known. UMass would continue to battle the Rams down the stretch, but never got closer than three points.
It wasn’t a flurry of 3-pointers or ferocious dunks. It was, other than the 3-pointer – which snapped a VCU scoreless streak of five minutes – a display of intangibles and team-oriented play. It’s not sexy. It’s selfless, and it wins.
“Those are the plays that Jordan makes, whether it’s big rebounds we need or clutch shots that we might need. He’s always there,” said Treveon Graham, who led the Rams with 24 points. “He gives us that play or two that we need to get our run going.”
“Not scoring a lot doesn’t really bother me,” Jordan Burgess said. “We have plenty of players on our team that can score. I think there were about 4-5 people that were in double figures today, so I just try to do a lot of things that people might not see on the stat sheet, like rebound, be in the right position on defense, just helping my teammates out any way I can, especially if I’m not putting points up on the board. I’m doing anything I can to help my team win.”
Bradford Burgess was honored in a pregame ceremony Saturday. Fans, striped in black and gold shirts, held up cards with “Burgess 20” on them. Parents Keith and Myla Burgess clung close to the boys. As Keith Burgess looked up at the newly unfurled No. 20 banner – Brad and Jordan wear it as a tribute to him – he openly wept.
Despite the moving video homage, the fanfare and the tears, Jordan remained stoic and focused.
“It was emotional for my parents. It was just an exciting day for me. I tried not to put too much emotion into it so I wouldn’t get away from the game that I had to play. It was a great feeling for my family and I’m very proud of my brother,” he said.
“He seemed like regular Jordan to me,” said teammate Mo Alie-Cox. “He didn’t seem to show any emotions. He’s just always about his business. He does the little things, everything we want him to do.”
He also resisted the urge to play outside himself, to be something he wasn’t. Instead of trying to be “Big Shot Brad”, he was “Mr. Intangible.”
“There’s a natural tendency, but we can’t get away from our game plan,” he said. “I don’t want to be selfish towards my teammates and try to go out and get mine. I’m just that player. My teammates were saying that this was a game for me to get 20, but that’s just not the way I play. I still play to win and to win the right way.”
Bradford is currently playing professionally in Italy. Despite the distance, the brothers remain close and talk nearly every day. Bradford often stays up until 3 or 4 in the morning to watch Jordan’s games online. But this was his first chance to watch VCU’s current No. 20 play for the Rams in person. Just prior to the pregame jersey retirement ceremony, as the Burgess family took the floor, Bradford leaned over and delivered some advice to his sibling.
“He just said that I’m my own person,” Jordan said. “He said it’s my turn to make a name for myself now, so he said go out there and play.”