Feb. 12, 2014
Inside the Pack: Deonte Burton
By: Jake Ward
Editors Note: Jake Ward is a fourth-year journalism student interning with Nevada Media Services.
On a sunny playground in the City of Angels is where Deonte Burton first picked up a basketball. Burton and his brothers, along with their dad, would go down the park and play some hoops. Deonte was too young to join their games then, he was only five years old. But he would watch, and knew that he wanted to be on the court with them.
"Watching them, I always thought that maybe I could play this game," he said. "Obviously I would have needed to get a little taller."
He didn't just watch his brothers, he studied them and their moves. He tried to recreate their moves later on his own. He didn't just emulate his brothers, he also watched all sorts of NBA players. From forwards to point guards, to the occasional center, Burton watched them all. But there was always one star in particular he watched. As a Los Angeles native, Burton was all about Showtime, the Los Angeles Lakers. It was the dominance by the purple and gold, and the young gun known as Kobe Bryant.
"At the time he had his afro or whatever," he said. "But I always loved Kobe, I always watched Kobe."
He put in the work, and eventually it paid off. It was age 13 that Burton was finally able to beat his older brothers, but that wasn't enough. He had to take on the big dog, the man of the house. He would play against his dad, and try as he may, he never could get past his old man. That was, until one day.
"Right about then, that's when I started being advanced for my age, skill wise," he said. "I was tall and strong for 13, at about 5 feet 11 inches. I played my dad and I almost dunked on him. I didn't quite do it, but I ended up beating him. I never had until then, and that's when I knew this could be serious."
With his skills progressing at the rate they were, it was a lock for Burton to make his high school team. At times, it was clear that Burton was often the best player on the court. Even his coach knew that.
"We didn't really have a big guy, so I had to do a lot for us," he said. "Coach told me I had to rebound for us and make plays for other guys when I got double teamed, and just score the ball."
As a senior, Burton averaged 21 points a game, to go along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Those totals led him to be named the regional John R. Wooden High School Player of the Year, and the CIF Southern California Division III Player of the Year. After his high school career was finished, he had totaled over 2,000 points.
Burton had his choices among colleges, including some big-name schools such as UCLA, Cincinnati, and Marquette. Ultimately, Burton did what he thought was best for himself, and found a home to settle in at Nevada.
"They (Nevada) always showed they were interested in me," he said. "There were some other big name schools, but I didn't think that they were as serious as Nevada. They (Nevada) just hung in there and showed that they were faithful and wanted me more."
Burton gave the Wolf Pack what they were hoping for after they recruited him for so long. He made an immediate impact as a freshman, as he started all 32 games in his freshman season en route to being named the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. He is only the fourth Wolf Pack player to earn the honor. He was second on the team in scoring for the season with 13.7 points per game, and topped the Pack during WAC play with 15.8 per game. It all came as a learning experience for Burton.
"I had never thought that I would come into college and get any award," he said. "Adjusting to the game was pretty hard, but if you work hard at something you love then you'll get there."
But it wasn't good enough for Burton. To him, the stats didn't mean anything without the wins to back them up.
"It was fun, but we didn't win that much and it was kind of disappointing."
That freshman campaign put Burton on the map for Nevada fans, and the expectations for Burton's sophomore season were beginning to rise. Burton rose with the challenge during his sophomore season, helping lead the team to the WAC Championship in Nevada's final year in the conference. Burton led the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, and totaled 24 double figure scoring games. He had the only 30 point game for a Pack player that season. But the offense wasn't what impressed Deonte the most, as he believed in the old cliche, "Defense wins championships."
"We just focused and keyed in on defense, that's what separated us from teams, no matter what conference we were in," Burton said. "Our defense was phenomenal that year. When you have a squad like we did that year, the presence of Dario (Hunt) inside, the guard play was nice, back then you could hand check a little bit and get physical, that's what wins championships, defense."
The 30-point game came against Washington in Nevada, where he nailed a three-pointer to send a game against Washington to overtime. There, he proceeded to score 8 of the final 10 points for Nevada in the victory.
"The arena was filled and the adrenaline was going, it was a chance for us to get a big win against a good school," Burton said. "The opportunity presented itself, and I like to think of my self as an opportunist when it comes to basketball, so we had to take it."
He was trending on Twitter that night after the game, something Burton did not realize the merit of immediately.
"I got a tweet about it saying I was trending," he said. "I just started the whole Twitter thing and I really didn't know what it meant, but now it's like, oh man I was trending."
Twitter was proving his stats were not going unnoticed, as he was named the WAC Player of the Year, the first-team All-WAC, and honorable mention AP All-America. Burton continued his roll into his junior year, when he led the Wolf Pack in scoring for the second straight season. He averaged 16.3 per game and notched a game high in points 11 times, tied for a team high. He scored in double figures 26 times, including a career-high stretch of 15 straight games.
Again, he helped to take down Washington, this time on the road after he scored his season-best 29 points against them that night. Without another PAC-12 opponent that year, Burton again capitalized on the opportunity to secure another big win for Nevada.
"Give them credit, they're a great team and they have a great coach," Burton said. "But it was a PAC-12 school, and we didn't play UCLA that year, so they had to feel the wrath."
With how well he was playing, it was only a matter of time before he got more national attention. He cracked the SportsCenter Top 10 plays, twice in the same week. Burton threw down a nasty dunk at in-state rival UNLV on January 29, 2013 that landed him second, before his block against then #20 New Mexico made it in as No. 10. While that's something most only dream of, Burton knows he is capable of those plays on a daily basis.
"To me it's not a shock," he said. "To say it in a humble way, I should be making those plays. It was definitely fun to see myself on there and we all got enjoyment from it, but those are the plays I should be making."
Coming into this season, Burton has not been overlooked. He was named No. 71 on the top 100 college players in the nation according to Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, and was No. 21 of the top 30 guards, according to Parrish. Burton said it was nice to see his name among the best in the nation, but wasn't completely satisfied with the ranking.
"I still felt like I should have been higher," he said. "But obviously it comes from winning, and the type of school you're at. But I'm trying to win and move up the rankings, but the most important thing is winning."
Despite the ranking,a he earned a tryout for the 2013 USA Basketball Men's World University Games.
"That was fun, up in Colorado, I got to train up there and see some of the great players and best point guards all around in college basketball, it was a selective group of guys" he said. "Even though they had me playing out of position, playing a 3 guard that I haven't ran since high school, it was kind of different for me. But it was a fun experience and I got a lot from it."
Burton started his 100th game as a member of the Wolf Pack, but he's not quite finished. After beginning the season at 10th on the career scoring at Nevada, he is quickly climbing the list in his final season of college hoops. In the game against Colorado State, Burton became only the third Wolf Pack member to score 1,900 points, joining Nevada alumni Nick Fazekas and Marcelus Kemp. With 1,911 points, Burton is 28 points behind Kemp for second place.
"You know, I was trying to catch Nick (Fazekas) for first, but it's not going to happen, but second is pretty amazing," Buton said about the possibility of finishing his career second on the Nevada scoring list. "It would be so humbling and great to be one of the top players to ever play at Nevada."
The highlights from a stellar college career have helped Burton build a resume that could help him land a spot on an NBA roster via the NBA draft at season's end. He could have left last year, but came back for one final round.
"I had some unfinished business in the Mountain West," he said. "I'm trying to get to the NCAA tournament, and I'm trying to win a MWC tournament championship, something I've never done, so I've got some things I'm trying to accomplish."
Burton does plan on entering the draft after this season is over, whenever that may be. Currently he is focused on the here and now at Nevada, but he did say there was one team that he would love to see himself being drafted by.
"Lakers," he said. "Lakers, Lakers, Lakers. They need a point guard, and I'm just hoping when the time comes they snatch me up. If not, I don't care what team I play for. But it would be pretty cool to play for my hometown team."
It means one big sacrifice for Burton, however.
"I won't be No. 24 anymore, but if I go there (Los Angeles) I could live with it," he said.
But Burton would be more than happy to swap his No. 24 to acquire the one dream he's worked so hard for -- to play for the team he grew up watching on the biggest stage in basketball, in the city where he first learned how to play.