Scott Burrell hopes to have major impact as new men’s head basketball coach
Aaron Johnson – Sports Editor
The name Scott Burrell has been synonymous with excellence and Connecticut state pride for several decades. Now, the former University of Connecticut standout and NBA player can add head coach to his resume after being named to the position in mid-July.
“It feels awesome,” said Burrell. “I’m excited for many reasons. I’m coming to a school that is growing. I’m coming to a great situation where coach (Mike) Donnelly had this place rolling in the right direction and I’m excited to get my head coaching opportunity jumpstarted.”
The surprising exit by Donnelly, the winningest coach in program history, left a level of disappointment amongst the returning Owls’ players. Under Donnelly, the Owls’ program was revitalized winning 97 games, including a school record 30 wins in 2013-14. Southern went to consecutive NCAA tournaments and reached the Elite Eight for the second time in program history during his five-years on the bench. After the season, Donnelly accepted the heading coaching position at Florida Southern. But the shock and disappointment has been replaced with the eagerness to play for Burrell.
“I was excited,” said junior guard Mike Mallory. “He had a great resume and I know I can learn a lot about the game from him. I also think he would do a lot for the school and for the community. I did not know who was going to be hired. But I think coach Burrell is a great fit for the program.”
Mallory looks to take on a leadership role for the Owls following the departure of Luke Houston and Tylon Smith. He is the leading returning scorer for the Owls, averaging 18.3 points a game last season and he along with seniors Stefon Williams, Deshawn Murphy and Desmond Williams will look to lead another strong campaign for Southern. Burrell said that he is ready to take the reins for an Owls’ team that is returning 10 players.
“They know I’m not going to change much,” he said. “I’m just going to fine-tune some things and try to help them get to the next step. We’re going to be tough. It’s great to score but you have to stop people at the other end. This team in the past scored at will but they might have had trouble stopping people or rebounding the ball. We’re going to clean that up a little bit and improve on that.”
A Hamden-native, Burrell played at Hamden High School, before going onto a successful career at UConn. Burrell was drafted in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, he played seven seasons in the NBA, including winning a title with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. He had been an assistant coach on the Quinnipiac staff for eight seasons before taking his talents to Southern.
“It is great,” said Stefon Williams. “He has so much experience and knowledge of the game. So for us to have a chance to learn from him will help the team tremendously. We trust him because he has been where every basketball player wanted to go at least one time in their lives.”
Off the court, Burrell said he wants to have an enormous impact in the lives of his new players and he credits the former coaches of his career for teaching him how to take on that role.
“I want our kids to be successful no matter if they play basketball or not,” he said. “I want to teach them. I want to be a role model to them and not just a coach. So many kids are used just as athletes but as a coach you have to be a teacher, a parent, a psychologist and you have to guide these kids on the right path.”
After making it to the Sweet 16 last season, the expectations for Southern remains high for the upcoming season. Mallory said that despite all that the Owls’ have lost, the team still has a swagger about them.
“The team this year,” he said. “We just keep saying to ourselves. We are going to shock the world.”
Photo Credit: Athletic Communications