Experience, perspective are two teachers of basketball player Chris Burgess

Published: Tuesday, April 10 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Former Utah center Chris Burgess, who now plays basketball for a professional team in Puerto Rico, shows off jerseys from his college and international basketball career.

Trent Toone

BOUNTIFUL — Seated on a basement couch, clad in crimson University of Utah gear and surrounded by his collection of basketball memorabilia, 32-year-old Chris Burgess spoke of his two great teachers — experience and perspective.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Burgess said of the past 16 years. “I’m sure I need to learn more.”

Amid countless games, teammates, coaches, jerseys and itineraries, there is little that basketball hasn't offered to Burgess. He's been a McDonald’s high school all-American and highly touted recruit, lost an NCAA championship, experienced frustrating injuries, failed to realize his NBA dream, married his sweetheart, started a family, and traveled the world, playing for 10 different teams in seven countries on four different continents. In late February, he suited up for his 11th foreign squad in Puerto Rico.

With a wide smile, the slender 6-foot-10 journeyman recounted some of the experiences and lessons he’s gained over the years.

Two major do-overs

Burgess was born in Provo, Utah, but was raised in Irvine after his family moved to Southern California. As a senior in 1997, Burgess, of Irvine, Calif., was one of the best high school players in the nation. All the top basketball programs in the country rolled out the red carpet for the can’t-miss recruit. He narrowed his top five schools to UCLA (coach Jim Harrick), Kansas (Roy Williams), Kentucky (Rick Pitino), Duke (Mike Krzyzewski) and Brigham Young University (Roger Reid). Burgess grew up watching players like Christian Laettner and Cherokee Parks, and in his heart, he knew he would play for Coach K.

But Burgess was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was most comfortable around the BYU staff.

“Roger was the best recruiter of them all. He made me feel at ease and I enjoyed being around him. He was the only one I allowed to come over twice on home visits,” Burgess said. “With Roy and Pitino, I was a star-struck kid. But I was such a Duke fan that no matter who recruited me … it was all about playing for Coach K and living this childhood dream.”

What happened next will always live on in Utah basketball lore. Burgess told a reporter that when he informed Reid of his decision, the coach told the senior he was letting down his parents, the prophet and the entire membership of the LDS Church. Burgess said he shared the comment in an interview with a reporter and a media firestorm erupted in Utah. Seven games into the 1996 season, Reid lost his job and it took BYU’s program several years to recover.

“If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't have said anything. I felt really bad. I liked BYU, I worshipped guys like Danny Ainge and Steve Young,” he said. “I don’t think it was fair for coach or myself. But what was said was said. He sort of put this pressure on me as a Mormon that I don’t think is fair for any kid. But I should’ve just kept quiet.”

Burgess was playing in a game with some ex-teammates and other former college players two years ago in Taylorsville when he saw Reid enter the gym. He wanted to make things right with the coach, but the situation felt awkward.

“It was the first time I had seen him since he recruited me. A lot of emotions flooded over me. I literally wanted to go up and hug him, tell him I was sorry, but it didn’t feel right,” Burgess said. “I will always remember him as a great recruiter.”

His second do-over?

Burgess wishes he had served an LDS mission. Chris said his little brother grew up in his tall shadow, but looking back, that changed when little brother completed his mission.

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