Chuck Landon: Just call C.J. the spin doctor
Some guys play with a touch of class.
But C.J. Burks?
The Marshall University basketball star is a bit different.
He plays with a touch of glass.
Anybody who has watched the 6-foot-4 senior guard perform on a regular basis realizes just how true that statement is. The Martinsburg, West Virginia, native is positively mesmerizing with the spins he puts on the ball as he finishes drives to the hoop.
He does it with his right hand.
He does it with his left hand.
He does it going past the rim with reverse spins.
Burks does it and does it and does it.
Perhaps Green Bay coach Linc Darner put it best after Marshall defeated the Phoenix, 90-70, Thursday night to win the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship in Cam Henderson Center.
“We knew he was going to go right every time,” said Darner. “But we couldn’t stop it.”
That’s because Burks is one of the best straight-line drivers in college basketball. He proved he deserved that accolade all season, but the coup de grace was Thursday night.
That’s when Burks exploded for 28 points, mostly on drives to the hoop, to capture CIT championship MVP honors.
“I kind of noticed late in the first half that Green Bay couldn’t defend me off the dribble,” said Burks.
That’s why Burks scored 24 of his game-high 28 points in the final 21:58 of the contest.
“The thing that makes C.J. different,” pointed out Marshall coach Danny D’Antoni, “is most guys increase their speed when they’re driving and getting close to the basket. But C.J. actually decreases his speed. It’s very unusual.”
And usually it throws defenders’ timing completely off.
But even if it doesn’t, well, that’s where the touch of glass comes into play.
“Really, I practiced a lot on those spins,” said Burks, who has spent considerable time in the gym working alone. “I just work on my craft every day. And at times I just take time and focus on certain things.
“I just tried to get a friendly relationship with the backboard. See what kinds of spins and different types of spins would work. And see what different finishes I could put on the backboard to make it go in.”
That’s why it’s nothing to see Burks bank a driving layup off the top of the square. Then, when everybody thinks there’s no possible way it could go in, the spin kicks it and, suddenly, the ball drops through the rim like a rock.
“I just practice all kinds of crazy things like that,” said Burks with a grin. “So, if I end up doing something like that in a game, I’ve probably done it before.”
Or probably a hundred times before.
“Right, right, right,” said Burks. “Yes, sir.”
That doesn’t come easy. Even a player as gifted as Burks has to put in a lot of work to spin it off the glass at the angles he does while moving as rapidly as he is.
“When you go in so fast in a fast-paced game like that and you’re going with different kinds of finishes,” explained Burks, “you don’t have time to think about how to spin the ball off the backboard.
“So, that definitely takes hours in the gym practicing for those situations. Once you get it to work, you know there’s a lot of practice behind it.”
All that work paid off Thursday night.
With a touch of glass.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.