No regrets: After whirlwind hoops career, Chris Burgess happy to be back at Utah as an undergraduate coach
“I could write a book,’’ he says. A few stories immediately come to mind, like the culture shock in the Middle East where games and practices would routinely be interrupted by daily prayer times, or “bribing Ukrainian cops” after getting in an accident on an icy road. Or his most recent experience in Dubai, where his team often wouldn’t have enough players show for practice to be able to scrimmage or would be bumped from the gym by the local volleyball team.
His favorite place?
Australia, he says, because of the “American style of basketball, really good people, no language barrier and good camaraderie on and off the floor.’’
His wife Lesa, who was a soccer player at Utah, dutifully travelled around the world with her husband for a decade but last year after having their fifth child, told him, "Hey, I’m done travelling."
So last year Burgess finished up in South Korea and Dubai on his own and decided “it was a good time to end it.’’
When Burgess came out of Woodbridge High School in Southern California in 1997, he was rated as the No. 1 prospect by USA Today. He had been born in Provo and, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many expected he’d play for BYU, where his father attended. When he chose Duke, Reid famously said he’d "let down 9 million Mormons.”
Burgess joined a celebrated freshman class at Duke that included future NBA players Battier, Elton Brand and William Avery. However, Burgess struggled from the beginning and started less than half of his team’s games in two seasons.
In the spring of 1999, while Brand and Avery were leaving for the NBA, Burgess left for Utah to play for Majerus and the Utes. But just a month into his redshirt season, he hurt his back and didn't even practice for nearly three months. The following year he broke his ankle and missed several games. As a senior he was leading the team at 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game when he tore the plantar fascia in his right foot in the 11th game and was lost for the season.
All these years later, Burgess has no regrets about his decision to go to Duke out of high school and transfer to Utah.
“It was a great experience with the games I played at Duke, whether it was 20 minutes or five minutes,’’ he said. “What a great experience to go to the Final Four, the national championship game and play for probably one of the best coaches of all time, who I still have a relationship with now. It’s a special place.’’
Burgess said going to Utah was his only consideration after Duke because of the opportunity to play for Majerus.
“It was positive. Everyone got their butt kicked and beat up verbally, but at the end of the day, I played for a coach who made me better,’’ he said. “I couldn’t forsee that I was going to struggle with injuries. But I give a lot of credit to Majerus for teaching me how to be a good system player who could jump into any situation — because every year I was on a different team and I was able to adapt.’’
Aside from basketball, there are other reasons Burgess is happy with the decisions he’s made in his life.
“I wouldn’t have met my wife and be where I am today as a person,’’ he said. “I think about all the friends and the niche I’ve made here in Salt Lake with teammates, coaches, fans, boosters, people in my ward.’
“If I’d stayed at Duke, would I have been a national champion? Probably. Would the NBA still be in my sights? I don’t know, possibly. But it’s one of those things where I think back and say, ‘I’ve got my wife and five kids now.’ It’s turned out great.’’
Undergraduate assistant coach at the University of Utah
Family: Wife, Lesa, and 5 children (ages 1 to 9)
Basketball playing career
11 years of professional basketball on five continents
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