No regrets: After whirlwind hoops career, Chris Burgess happy to be back at Utah as an undergraduate coach

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 8:05 p.m. MST

Chris Burgess as the University of Utah defeats BYU, 81-64, in NCAA basketball Dec. 14 in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — If things had gone according to plan, Chris Burgess would be kicking back and reflecting on a long and successful NBA career about now. Or maybe he’d still be finishing up his playing days, filling the veteran’s role for an NBA team like his former college teammate, Shane Battier, is in Miami.

Burgess once had dreams of playing in the NBA and making a nice living. One of the most highly recruited players in the nation out of high school, he famously spurned BYU coach Roger Reid and the Cougars to attend Duke University and play for coach Mike Krzyzewski.

At the time, Burgess figured he'd go to Duke for a couple of years and then move on to the NBA. It turned out he did go to Duke for just two years, but instead of heading to the NBA, he left the school after unfulfilled expectations and transferred to Utah, where he played two injury-plagued seasons under coach Rick Majerus. With his NBA hopes dashed, Burgess embarked on a professional career that took him to five continents and created a decade of memories that he’ll always cherish.

The 34-year-old Burgess is now back in Utah, hoping to begin a coaching career. He’s starting at the very bottom — not as a graduate assistant, but an undergraduate assistant to Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak — as he finishes up his degree at the U.

“I’m trying to learn a little about everything and show my value there,’’ Burgess says as he watches fellow undergraduates 15 years his junior practice on the Huntsman Center floor. “I’m trying to learn from every coach on the staff. Any way I can take pressure off the coaches working with the big guys, any way I can help is what I’m trying to do.’’

Kyrstkowiak didn’t even know he could have an undergraduate assistant, but he couldn’t be happier with how it’s working out with Burgess.

“It’s a great situation with the NCAA rules that he is able to come back and finish his undergraduate degree and get into coaching,’’ said Krystkowiak, who got a similar start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Montana.

“So it’s a win for him that he is able to be around our team and spend a lot of time with our guys on the court. What he can share with them is invaluable. There’s always a great value in getting someone back that wore the uniform and understands the place and has an affinity for it.’’

After taking a full load of classes in the fall, Burgess just has a single class this semester to finish up his degree in speech communications. He came up short of a degree when he finished his playing career at Utah in 2002 after many of his credits from Duke didn’t transfer and he immediately started playing basketball for a living overseas, where he made a living for 11 years.


“I’ve been everywhere,’’ Burgess says with a smile. And he’s not exaggerating.

He started out in Turkey, went to Australia for three years, then jumped around to the Philippines, South Korea, Egypt, Ukraine, Puerto Rico and Poland before finishing his career last year in United Arab Emirates.

“As a big guy, you have more options,’’ he says of his long professional career. He talks fondly about running into former Utes like Ben Melmeth in Australia and Hanno Mottola in Europe and making contacts all over the world.

Burgess could go on all day with stories.

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