Following footsteps: Grand Junction’s Casey Burns is a third-generation player
Casey Burns has thought about playing basketball for Grand Junction High School for a long time.
Burns, a junior starter for the Tigers, is a third-generation athlete at Grand Junction High School, following in the footsteps of his father, Chris, and his grandfather, Jim.
“I’ve never known anything than Grand Junction High School for sports,” Casey Burns said. “Ever since I was little we’d be here for the games.”
Jim Burns graduated from Grand Junction in 1949 and was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball for the Tigers.
“Burnsy,” as he was known to most people, was a key figure with the Rocky Mountain Open golf tournament for more than 65 years.
Chris Burns excelled in basketball and baseball for the Tigers, graduating in 1979. Chris Burns led the Southwestern League, averaging 21.1 points per game his senior season.
After a standout high school baseball career, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and played four seasons in the minor leagues.
Casey Burns grew up attending to Grand Junction High School basketball games, anticipating getting to play for the Tigers.
“It’s pretty cool, and it seems like every year we have a few kids like that,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “I’ve known Casey’s dad for a long time, and I think I met Casey when he was in fifth or sixth grade.
“So it’s been cool to see him develop from a little kid to where he is now.”
Casey Burns finally made his Tigers debut two seasons ago as a freshman playing on both the junior varsity and varsity teams.
“Freshman year was nerve-wracking. I was playing with all these guys and getting good experience,” he said.
His freshman year was a learning experience to help set him up for his sophomore season, where he was called upon to provide some much-needed scoring for the Tigers.
“Last year he was the first guy off the bench, and early on in the season we’d bring him in and he’d get into foul trouble every game, so we’d have to take him out,” Johnson said.
“But he got better and better defensively with his feet, and it turned into by the end of the season he was one of our best guys at putting the ball on the floor and creating.”
Burns’ ability to get to the basket is unparalleled in the Southwestern League, with a 6-foot-3 frame and the quick first step and ballhandling skills of a point guard.
This season, Burns is leading the Tigers (10-5, 2-1 SWL) with 11.2 points per game average.
“His first step is so good that he’s able to get to the basket at will against some teams,” Johnson said. “I’m not so concerned about him shooting the ball, but if he gets more consistent with it, they’ll have to come out and guard him.
“That will make it a nightmare to guard him.”
Johnson said Burns’ defense has improved to the point where he guards the opposing team’s best player. He has also evolved into one of the Tigers’ leaders.
“We knew (senior) Tyler Winder would be there as a vocal leader, but Casey has really been that guy as well,” Johnson said. “You see it more in practice, when we aren’t having a good practice he’s the one that really steps up and gets it going.”
Burns said he’s been waiting since the midway point of his freshman year to be in a position of leadership.
“It was nice to have that responsibility,” Burns said. “I’ve been waiting to get up to that point for a year, so I try to be a leader on a court.”
Burns said he’s enjoyed playing in the same gym where his father and grandfather played.
There’s been something missing this season for Burns — his grandfather died last September, missing his grandson’s senior season.
“I guarantee you it made his final days,” Chris Burns said. “He always wanted to know when Casey was playing, and it would get him through the week knowing he had two games to watch. He couldn’t wait.”
Casey is making sure his grandfather has the best seat in the gym, writing the initials ‘JB’ on his shoes.
“They had a special relationship,” Chris Burns said. “I know my dad wanted to make it to this year to watch Casey, and their relationship was special. He was always there for Casey after every game to talk to him.”