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Columbia Missourian

Hickman boys basketball coach takes realistic approach

By Brandon Mitchener
February 5, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Coach John Burns helps a player improve during basketball practice on November 18, 2009. Burns was hired as head coach for the Hickman boys basketball team last May and has traveled the country visiting premier basketball programs to find out what makes coaches successful.

COLUMBIA — For some Hickman fans, 14-7 is not good enough.

They expect more from a coach who won three league championships in three seasons, 70 games and a state runner-up finish for Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz.

Friday's game

Hickman at Logan-Rogersville
WHEN: 6 p.m.

But one thing Hickman boys basketball coach John Burns takes pride in is his ability to evaluate a team’s realistic talent. He is direct with his expectations of players and honest about where his team is and could be.

“The gap between the expectations and reality is huge,” Burns said. “I mean it's not even close in terms of what people expect."

Assistant coach Cray Logan, who is in his first year of coaching, said a powerhouse program doesn’t just arrive with a new coach.

“Those programs have been around for five, maybe 10 years with the same coaches and the same players,” Logan said. “They get maybe five new players every year. We just got 25 new players.”

Burns quickly realized that one of his challenges is dealing with exaggerated expectations.

When he arrived at Hickman, there was an assumption from much of the community that there was tons of basketball talent there, Burns said.

“There are lots of people on the team that have a high amount of talent,” Logan said. “But with him it’s not your talent, it’s pushing you beyond your comfort zone, beyond what you are used to doing, beyond what you are already able to do.”

Burns knows about player development. In his tenure at Highland, he helped develop nine future Division I players. And his key to success is relatively simple: honesty. As soon as his players become realistic with their ability and how successful they can become, he shows them the steps to reach the realistic potential, Burns said.

“He’ll never lie to you,” Logan said. “He’ll never tell you that you are greater than you are, and he’ll never tell you that you’re less than you are either.”

In his coaching philosophy, players who are honest, competitive and willing to work hard are the ones who prevail.

“Now the ones that are inconsistent in their work ethic, the ones that don’t love to win, the ones that try to make excuses, well, we’ve got issues,” Burns said.

Burns said he has no problem with guard Lyle Harris who he thinks works hard, is honest and loves to win. And Harris’ commitment certainly shows on the statistics sheet. The senior leads the team in points, assists, steals and field goal percentage.

But even from a team’s perspective, 14-7 is not disappointing. The Kewpies’ past three teams finished 15-10, 13-13 and 15-12.

“In a sense, a lot of people just expect him to step in and within one year turn this into some championship team,” Logan said. “But those kind of programs take years to develop.”

Progress is being made. The team has won nine out of its past 12 games, and Burns said where the team was at the beginning of the season compared to where it is now is “night and day.”

“I don’t think we take any steps back,” Burns said. “I think every day we get better. And that’s a struggle because it’s hard to get better every day.”