With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.
Senior center Joe Burton has played his final home games in an Oregon State uniform. He will play in the Pac-12 Tournament this week, and barring an automatic bid to the NCAA’s, or the off chance the Beavers are invited to the CBI, one of the most creative and interesting players in Pac-12 history will hang it up.
Burton has never led the Beavers in points scored or rebounds grabbed. He wasn’t even talked about nationally until mid-way through his final season in Corvallis. He never played on a team seeded higher than sixth in the Pac-12 Tournament. His teams never made a postseason tournament greater than the CBI.
But boy was he fun to watch. He was Craig Robinson’s first signee, but was used in his first season as a man to spell a point guard or center that was in foul trouble. Everything changed his sophomore season, however. Starting the majority of the year, Burton brought a different style of play to the Beaver offense and changed the way they ran it.
Burton’s contributions can be broken down two-fold; with the ball at the top of the three-point line and with the ball in the paint. On the perimeter, Burton plays the role of a point-center. He gathers roughly half of his team-leading assists this way, throwing wicked one-handed, passes (view one of these dimes here at the 0:20 mark). And after a made basket by an opponent, it’s not a guard taking the ball out and inbounding it. It’s big Joe, and if you think he’s just going to shovel the ball off to Ahmad Starks or Challe Barton, you’re wrong. Burton loves the two-handed, 72-foot outlet pass, smiling while the ball flies over the nine heads on the floor and into Roberto Nelson’s hands right beneath the other basket. Once, he even tried an alley-oop by lying on his back at the half-court line while the shot clock was expiring, attempting to get the ball to Eric Moreland at the rim. It didn’t work, but the thought is what counts. He just plays with a different thought-process than everyone, some call it an old-school mentality, and it works.
That leads us to the second area of his game, the one that is most spectacular and will be missed by all that followed his career in Corvallis. As a defender converging to stop this 295 pound, light-on-his-feet center, you need to be aware that the ball could go in any direction, at any time. When he’s passing the ball, Burton is capable of putting it through not only his legs, but yours’ as well. Maybe he’ll attempt a one-handed, over the shoulder, no look to a streaking Eric Moreland. You never know where the ball is going, but you have to be on high alert.
And that’s when he surprises you the most. When it looks as if there’s no possible way he can dish the ball off or put the ball in the basket, Burton will go to one of three moves that you either haven’t seen before or haven’t seen done so successfully since the career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The first is the self-named Native Tornado, which features a bit of a traditional step-through move, only going horizontally and underneath the basket. Typically resulting in a good reverse or off-the-glass bank shot, this is Burton’s best move. Sure, it may belong in a game of H-O-R-S-E (actually, all of these do), but it’s the surprise factor that makes it work.
The second most common Burton move is the fading away from the basket, sweeping hook shot. Once again, this is not an easy shot by any stretch of the imagination. But Burton makes it work, leaving defenders shaking their heads as the big fella runs down the floor smiling from ear-to-ear.
Finally, we get to the rarest of shots in Burton’s repertoire, the one-handed, over-the-head shot. Seen maybe once every four games, it catches you so off guard that you don’t even know what’s happened until the ball goes through the netting and the other team is off down the floor. I should probably just stop explaining and let the video speak for itself. Downright dirty.
You can’t have a piece honoring Burton without mentioning the strides he has made to bring athletics to the Native American community. He played a huge role in getting Nike’s N7 Initiative off the ground, and helped design Oregon State’s turquoise uniforms that were worn once or twice a season while he was in Corvallis. He is the first Native American scholarship player in the Pac-12 since the league expanded in 1978, and he is treated like a celebrity whenever he goes back to his reservation in Soboba, California.
We’ll miss you Joe.