RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When Bradford Burgess walked into Sheppard Street Gymnasium for Benedictine varsity basketball’s first practice, the players were understandably star-struck. Before them stood “Big Shot Brad,” one of the key contributors in VCU’s magical run to the Final Four in 2011. As soon as the whistle blew to begin, players were quickly put at ease.
“He was a Cadet,” says Benedictine senior point guard Gunnar Franko, “he was in our shoes, instead of a coach from another state or something. He was one of us.”
Burgess, whose VCU jersey now hangs in the Siegel Center rafters alongside the other great basketball players to don black and gold, was much like the players he was coaching before the journey on Broad Street; a young high school kid dreaming of making a name for himself in college basketball while playing at Benedictine College Preparatory.
“It is weird to be called Coach Burgess now,” he jokes, a Benedictine graduate in 2008, “it was an easy decision for me.”
Burgess has spent the last six years playing professionally overseas. Now a free agent, he is biding his time by giving back to his alma mater; coaching young men who aim to take the same path after high school, or at least dream to.
“He’s helped me learn a lot of tools of the trade,” says Cadets’ senior forward Dimitri Georgiadis, “a lot of stuff in college that he learned in college with Jamie Skeen and some of the other big men.”
During practice, Burgess stays planted near the sideline at midcourt. Always observing for a teachable moment, once a player makes a good play or a poor decision he is quick to correct and support. If a visual is required, Burgess is even faster to grab the basketball and show the young players how it’s done.
“One practice the guards were messing up this play, (Coach Burgess) said, ‘look, watch this, I’ll do it,'” laughs Georgiadis, “he took his sweatpants off, took his hoodie off and just started doing the drill with us and we were like, wow, he’s still got it.”
Good thing too, Burgess still hopes to continue his professional career and once the opportunity arrives he will be back to competing across the pond. However he recognizes the departure will be bittersweet, not just for him but for the young men as well. He knows having a role model makes a lasting impression, one he believes can make a difference in their lives as well as his.
“I’ve learned a lot,” says Burgess, “I want to see what they do after (Benedictine). That’s the biggest thing for any teacher in life is what a player does after they’ve been with you and how they effect the world moving forward.”