SALT LAKE CITY — Luther "Ticky" Burden returned to the University of Utah on Monday. For the first time in more than 36 years, he stepped on the basketball floor at the Special Events (now Huntsman) Center.
"I went up there and shot some foul shots," said Burden, who noted that a lot of things seemed the same in the arena he starred in from 1972-75.
Burden's homecoming also included a trip to the trophy case. As a sophomore, he helped the Utes reach the NIT championship game. There were other honors as well.
One, however, caught him by surprise. Burden learned he was first recipient of the Jack Gardner Team MVP Award when he saw his name on a plaque mounted in the arena concourse.
Burden and the university had grown apart over time.
That changed, however, with the former basketball star's induction into the Crimson Club Hall of Fame Monday night at the Little America Hotel. He's part of a 2011 class that includes Jeff Griffin (football), Wat Misaka (basketball) and Sue Stednitz (gymnastics).
"I've received a lot of honors over my lifetime but this is real special for me," said Burden, who acknowledged that he followed the Utah basketball team despite losing contact with the school for more than three decades.
Getting back in touch, he explained, has proven to be special.
"I feel great. I'm going to enjoy this. The university has opened their arms up to me and expressed that they want me to be part of the family again," Burden said. "So I'm real pleased and I'm going to be coming back to Salt Lake."
The 58-year-old, who played professionally with the ABA's Virginia Squires and the NBA's New York Knicks, is still involved with the game. He runs a youth basketball program at the YMCA in Winston-Salem, N.C., that trains kids when they're little (7-9 years-old) and intensifies as their skills develop. NBA stars Chris Paul and Josh Howard are among his former players.
"It's wonderful to see their development and see how far they've come," said Burden, who notes he can still shoot a mean free throw. His jump shot, though, takes a little time to warm up.
Basketball isn't the only thing he passes on to youngsters. Burden shares a life lesson after being sent to prison for alleged involvement in a 1980 bank robbery. Three associates struck plea deals and testified against him. He served two years before his conviction was overturned.
Burden now encourages young players to watch who they trust and protect their reputation.
"You've got to trust your own intuition," Burden said. "You've got to be your man, your person."
Burden, a former Albany, N.Y., area prep star, will join Julius Erving as a guest speaker at a banquet inducting former BYU star Jimmer Fredette into an upstate New York basketball Hall of Fame in June, averaged 28.7 points per game in his final season with the Utes.
Utah's other Hall of Fame inductees also had stellar careers up on the hill.
Misaka played on two national championship teams. He joined Arnie Ferrin and Dick Smuin as part of the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT title teams. The 5-foot-7 guard was drafted in the first round by the New York Knicks.
Prior to Monday's banquet, the 87-year-old told his wife this was his last hurrah.
"The university has done so much for me. All the things that happened while I was here and all of the good things that have happened since then has been because of that," Misaka said. "So I really kind of owe the university a lot for my life and for the happiness that it has brought to my life."
Griffin has also appreciated his connection with the U. The former California prep star has returned for reunions each year since being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 1981 NFL Draft. His NFL career ended in 1987 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
At Utah, the defensive back made quite an impact. He recovered five fumbles as a freshman and returned three interceptions for touchdowns as a sophomore.
Griffin earned all-conference recognition the next two seasons, capping his senior season with second-team All-America recognition. He had 12 unassisted tackles against Nebraska that year.
Despite the numbers and success, Griffin acknowledged being a bit surprised by his induction.
"It means a whole lot," he said.
Griffin still follows the Utes in football and is eager to see them compete in the Pac-12.
"All I can say is that I started all this," he said with a laugh. "I'm just kidding. I think it's great. I think it's great where the program is going from the time I was playing to now is fantastic."
Utah's lone female honoree in 2011 also laid some pivotal groundwork for current success. Stednitz was the first U. gymnast to win multiple individual NCAA titles. Her success helped the Utes claim team championships in 1982 and 1983.
As a freshman, Stednitz won the all-around crown. She also took top honors on the balance beam and earned All-America finishes on vault and in the floor exercise.
A knee injury at regionals ended her career as a sophomore. She was a student assistant at Utah before moving back home to California.
Stednitz said being named to the Utah Hall of Fame is phenomenal.
"My cool meter with my kids has gone up exponentially," she explained. "They're young enough to appreciate this."
Besides paying tribute to the Hall of Famers, the university honored its graduating senior student-athletes. More than 500 tickets were sold for the banquet.