COLUMBIA — From 1975 to 1988, the Columbia College men’s basketball team won 98 games. Zero national tournament appearances. One winning season. In two of those 14 seasons, the Cougars managed just one win.
Enter Bob Burchard.
American Midwest Conference Tournament Missouri Baptist (6-24, 4-10) vs. No. 14 Columbia College (23-7, 11-3) WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: Southwell Complex
Since his arrival in 1989, Columbia College has established itself as a perennial contender in the American Midwest Conference, and a frequent participant in the NAIA National Tournament with 12 appearances. In 2008, with his team perched as the No. 14 team in the NAIA, a 13th appearance seems inevitable.
Now, as the 50-year-old Burchard goes for his 500th win on Saturday, he shows no sign of slowing the pace that has allowed him to become the winningest coach in Columbia College men’s basketball history.
“Coach Burchard was the main reason I came here,” said Cougars freshman Jake Alexander. “He told me he worked with Team USA, and he graduated a lot of his players, so I felt this was the best place for me.”
Burchard’s work as a court coach for USA Basketball in 2000 and his appointment to the USA Basketball Collegiate Committee in 2005 serves as evidence that his legacy precedes him outside Missouri. But don’t think that means he’s taken for granted inside the Show-Me State’s borders.
William Woods coach Drew Grzella and Columbia College assistant coach Sean Dooley both played under Burchard, and Grzella stayed in Columbia two years after he graduated to assist Burchard. To see more evidence of his influence, look no further than his family tree. A father of two, Burchard’s youngest son Bret plays for Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
“Based on my visits here when I was being recruited, he just seemed like a winner,” Columbia College’s Trae Hall said. “I was really inspired by the fact that he’s a winner, and this is a winning program, so I couldn’t wait to come here.”
Burchard’s winning ways start on the practice floor. His emotionless, tranquil presence morphs into a fierce, powerful motivator as he barks out orders from underneath his graying mustache when he senses his team isn’t providing him with the effort he demands of them.
“He always seems like he knows exactly what to tell us when we’re not playing or we’re down after a loss,” Alexander said.
Although Missouri Baptist (6-24)is all that stands between Burchard andNo. 500, the Spartans are far from a pushover. In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Cougars needed two overtimes to dispatch Missouri Baptist’s scoring duo of Bret Wilson and Brandon Bishop.
Columbia College senior Mikel Fields sees the significance of Saturday’s matchup.
“It’s always going to be something you’ll be able to look back on and say ‘Yeah, I was a part of that when that happened,’” Fields said. “Or if you ever hear it being discussed later on or hear about other coaches reaching that milestone, this will be something that can’t ever be taken away from us.”
Hall agreed, and said the opportunity to be forever a part of Burchard’s legacy is something he welcomes.
“It would have been nice to win it Tuesday, because that was such a big game,” Hall said of the Cougars 73-70 loss to McKendree that cost them the regular season conference title. “It’ll be good for him though, and I’ll be happy to get that for him. I’m just glad that this is coming during a season like this, when we’re having so much success.”