COLUMBIA — John Burns knows what his team’s record is, but he doesn’t care.
The Battle High School Spartans are 5-18 at the end of their first season. That’s a .217 winning percentage. But Burns, Battle’s head basketball coach, doesn’t care. And his team doesn’t talk about it.
Battle begins district tournament play as the No. 6 seed in its bracket March 4. Battle plays St. Mary's at 5 p.m. at Bishop DuBourg High School.
“Anybody that’s played at a championship level, rarely ever do you talk about winning,” Burns said. “You talk about how to be successful. That’s for people who have never played the game. They talk about winning all the time, in my opinion.”
Burns would love it to be the other way around, of course. All of the players and coaches at Battle would like to have a winning record.
But Burns understands the situation he is in. He is the coach of a first-year team featuring no seniors and players who have not played together before.
“I knew we’d be at a disadvantage, especially early,” Burns said. “We can’t focus on the record this year. This is about learning to improve and be better."
Junior guard Trey Smith said he appreciates the way Burns coaches the team.
“I want to win, and everybody else on the team wants to win,” Smith said. “But right now, we’re focusing on getting together and coming together as a team. Then we’ll start winning.”
The process comes before the product. That’s why Burns doesn’t care about the losing record. He knows he will have every player back next year, and he is happy with the foundation he has set this year.
Burns also approaches the court with a mindset that there are more important things than winning, which is something he picked up from his old coach, former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart. Burns played for Stewart from 1989-1993.
Stewart, the man whose signature is inscribed on the hardwood court inside Mizzou Arena, is, in a way, the grandfather of the Battle boys basketball program.
“I’d say 90 percent of how I coach is like him, in terms of communicating message,” Burns said.
Stewart, who was 10-16 in his first season as the head coach at Missouri, stressed that who you are on the court directly correlates to who you are off the court. Burns preaches this to his team.
The boys are people before players, Burns said. And Burns would much rather have good people than good players. He takes the position of responsibility he has been given over his players very seriously.
“I coach so I can help them become successful later on in life,” Burns said. “They’re people first, and good people with a good work ethic.”
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.