When a player you watched for an entire collegiate career goes on to have success at the next level, you can't help but feel good. For St. John's Red Storm fans, the 2011 senior class is beginning to provide such feelings.
In 2007 when Norm Roberts unveiled his centerpiece freshmen class, Justin Burrell was considered the most talented of the group. The forward out of Our Savior Lutheran in the Bronx and Bridgton Academy had sky-high potential, and would lead the resurgence of the program.
Burrell's time at St. John's was defined by flashes of brilliance, with others of struggle and injury. His development hit a bit of a roadblock during his sophomore year after suffering a broken nose in practice, forcing him to wear a plastic mask for the remainder of the season.
But by the time Burrell was a senior, he had become an asset for first-year head coach Steve Lavin. He spent most games coming off the bench - and made the most of it. After a solid and productive year, Burrell was voted the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year.
Now in 2012, five years after leaving Bridgton to come to Queens, Justin Burrell is already creating an impressive professional resumé. His ultimate goal is to one day get to the NBA, and that day may not be too far off.
More, below the fold.
Some fans may not have heard from Burrell in a while, especially because he's been playing most of his recent ball across the world in Japan. It can often be hard to stay in touch with those who you have kept a close watch on for four years.
But if you're in tune with social media, you know that the former Red Storm forward is quite active, and not afraid to reach out to his hometown supporters. His Twitter account is always buzzing and even recently did an interview for the St. John's website providing an update on his happenings and whereabouts.
Burrell's basketball performance over the past year has been notable as well, both internationally and locally. We always knew he has big-time potential, and he certainly showed that in his professional debut season with the expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs of the Japan League.
After averaging 18.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game last season (significantly improved from his 8.2 and 5.0 at St. John's), Burrell led the first-year team to the semifinals of the league. He also earned the league's Most Valuable Player award, an honor he's worked so hard for.
His performance has been recognized stateside, too. Burrell laced up for the Golden State Warriors summer league squad in July, performed well, and is now planning on attending Warriors preseason camp as long as he has a legitimate chance at a roster spot.
Burrell has kept busy at home this summer in the New York area. He participated in last week's Malone Mulhall Benefit Game at Adelphi University, scoring 25 points and providing huge jams for the crowd. Justin was never afraid to bring down the house.
As Joseph Staszewski of the New York Post states in this article, Burrell was also been selected as a member of Team Nike 2, a streetball all-star team that played on the East Side of Manhattan. He contributed to the squad's two wins this past Monday.
Burrell joins other members of the 2010-11 Johnnies to have had success in 2012. Dwight Hardy had a solid year with Pistoria Basket (Italy), played with the Miami Heat summer league squad, and just recently signed a contract with another Italian team. DJ Kennedy saw time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and will attempt to make the Grizzlies roster after being traded last week. Paris Horne and Justin Brownlee also spent time in the NBA summer league.
Wherever Justin Burrell ends up, both in 2013 and the extended future, we know he'll be smiling. He's always enjoyed playing the game, which has motivated him to work hard.
We watched him grow during his four years at St. John's, and it sure looks like that was only the beginning.