The man in the middle
CMU will surround Burgon with guards
Even before his older brother’s shoulder gave out this fall, Colton Burgon knew he was going to be the man in the middle this season for the Colorado Mesa University men’s basketball team.
The past two years, the Mavericks ran a two-post offense. This season, with only two veteran post players, the Mavs were switching back to their familiar single-post look.
So Colton Burgon ran. He hit the weight room. He played a lot of pickup games.
“I’ve put on about 20 pounds since my sophomore year,” the 6-foot-8 senior said. “I’m in really good shape this year, the best shape of my life, really, so I’m ready to go.”
Two weeks before practice began, Chandler Burgon’s right shoulder, which he first injured two years ago, required labrum surgery.
He hopes to be able to play in February and March, but until then, he’s helping to coach the post players, in particular, the two young posts, redshirt freshman Trevor VanTassel, who will back up Colton Burgon, and freshman Ryan Stephan.
“It’s a concern with Chandler being out and the other two kids are just young,” CMU coach Jim Heaps said. “Colton’s one of those guys who can play a lot of minutes, but also playing a post spot you’re going to get into foul trouble and get into situations where you need a backup.”
VanTassel, a 6-8, 265-pound redshirt freshman out of Green Mountain High School is a big, strong player, but has yet to suit up for a college game.
Stephan, a 6-9, 250-pound freshman from Green Mountain is a player Heaps would like to redshirt, but he likely won’t have that option. They have the big bodies that can take the physical play in the RMAC once they get acclimated, and Heaps thinks both will be very good.
“They’ve been practicing hard,” Colton Burgon said. “I think they’ll be ready when they’re called on. In practice, (VanTassel) will catch the ball down low and make a great move and score all the time.”
Burgon loves playing in the low post.
“He runs the floor so well, and we have to do a better job finding him on the break and the secondary break, because he does create a tough matchup for teams,” Heaps said. “They have a hard time running with him.”
The biggest adjustment for Burgon is not having his brother or Michael Bear, who graduated, running interference for him in the paint.
“We’ve been running two (posts) because we had so many good posts, and now we have really good guards who can play those positions. That makes my job easier because if I get doubled, I can kick it out, and we have such good shooters we’ll get wide-open shots,” Burgon said.
With four guards on the floor, the Mavs will push the tempo, but it’s not a run-and-gun offense by any means. Mesa will still run its motion offense if an easy transition bucket isn’t there. And there are rules to running.
Rule 1: Commit to the run.
“People get that connotation, it’s Mesa, they’re just gonna walk it up. I’ve never told a kid to walk it up,” Heaps said. “As soon as they start getting tired, they stop running. ... If you want to run, you’ve got to really commit to getting in shape, and you’ve got to push it every time.”
Rule 2: Play defense and rebound.
“What I always tell them is you have to get stops to run. If you’re taking the ball out of the basket every time, it’s hard to run,” Heaps said.
Heaps has the players to get up and down the floor, starting with his point guards, Daniel Estes and Kevin Screen, who are point guards 1 and 1A because they’re so close in talent.
“Danny’s much more of a scoring point guard than maybe I’ve ever had,” Heaps said. “He shoots the ball really well. Kevin is probably a better passer and (sees the whole floor better). They both defend really well. We ask those guys to play really hard and cover a lot of ground and double-(team shooters). They need to be able to sub if they need somebody to back them up.”
That goes for all of the Mavericks. Taking a breather on the court isn’t an option, and Heaps figures the Mavericks will go 10 deep for just that reason.
Jeff Hart, a 6-4 senior, is listed as a forward, and has a knack for getting to the basket and is a solid rebounder for his size.
“The one through four in Heaps’ system are all interchangeable,” Hart said of the guard spots. “Everyone put in the work, and we should be really good if we can get the chemistry right.”
Mike Melillo, a 6-5 sophomore, came on like gangbusters last season and, like Colton Burgon, got bigger and stronger so he can be a threat when he attacks the basket.
“Physically he’s more prepared for the grind of the college game,” Heaps said. “We expect great things from him; he’ll be one of the top players in the league. You can see that confidence he has. He thinks of himself as a good player.”
The only new face in the starting lineup is Paul Walter, a 6-4 guard who was an all-region player at Clackamas (Wash.) Community College.
“Paul is a big body. He’s strong and has size and is really athletic,” Hart said. “He’ll help us out rebounding now that we’re back to four guards.”
With only Walter and VanTassel new to the rotation, the Mavericks, who went 16-13 last season (12-10 RMAC) expect success. They reached the title game of the RMAC tournament last season, but losing several close games early took them out of the running for a regional berth. That could change this season.
“We have so much experience it’s going to be hard for us to buckle under pressure,” Colton Burgon said. “Toward the end of (last) year we were winning games that we had been losing by a couple of points. We’ll know what to do at the end of games. We’ve all been there now.”