BOULDER - Former University of Colorado standouts Alec Burks and Cory Higgins have been counting the days - now the hours - until this week's NBA Draft provides the first look at their basketball futures.
Call it motherly intuition, foresight or maybe something stronger, but Dina Burks knew early on what the future held for the younger of her two sons.
"Some things I just know; none of this is a surprise to me," she told me earlier this week. "Everybody else is just beginning to realize what a special talent and person he is, but I've known it all along.
"He's always had a basketball; he was kind of born with it. His dad and his grandfather played, his brother played . . . it was going to happen. He's always been a natural and I've always known it. There wasn't this 'oh, wow' thing that happened when he was 5 or 15. It was a God-given gift, just a part of him."
The CU basketball program and Buffaloes fans came to the same conclusion two seasons ago, and the Burks family is hopeful the NBA is on the verge of similar discoveries. Burks is expected to be selected anywhere from No. 9 to No. 12 in Thursday's first round, while Higgins likely will be a second-round choice or get his NBA opportunity through free agency.
Dina Burks estimates she and her husband, Steve, were able to watch "80 to 90 percent" of Alec's college games and believes they will able to attend at least that many of his NBA games. She leaves Kansas City on Wednesday morning for Newark to attend Thursday night's event.
"We wouldn't miss it," she said, adding that other relatives also will attend.
Burks and Higgins were CU's top two scorers in each of the past two years, averaging 20.5 points and 16.1, respectively, during a record-setting 2010-11 season that saw the Buffs win a school-best 24 games.
The pair took different routes in pursuit of their common goal to reach the NBA. The lightly recruited Burks made his mark in just two college seasons, while the underrated Higgins benefitted from staying for four years. He left Boulder sharing the school's career scoring record.
Burks has worked out for more than half a dozen NBA teams, completing his circuit on Monday at Utah before flying back to Kansas City - the family lives in Grandview, Mo. - then heading for Newark, N.J., and Thursday night's draft (5 p.m. MDT).
He suffered a dislocated shoulder in a workout in Milwaukee about two weeks ago, but sufficiently recovered to keep this week's appointment with the Jazz. Dina Burks said her son's shoulder is "fine," adding he is "very excited" about what awaits on Thursday.
"This is fulfilling his dream," she said. "He's been able to go to the next level, then the next level, then the next . . . this is just the beginning. It really doesn't matter what team it is (that drafts him); he'll be productive."
Higgins, who in his final season tied Richard Roby (2,001 points) as CU's all-time scoring leader, has auditioned in New Jersey, Detroit, Denver, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Houston. Unlike Burks, he enters the draft with no assurances of being selected.
But, as CU Coach Tad Boyle noted, "There are no guarantees (for either player). First-rounders have to prove themselves in camp just like second-rounders and free agents. It'll be interesting to see where both of these guys end up and what they do with their opportunities. But I do know this: Both of them can play."
Burks is viewed by many analysts as one of the top five shooting guards available, joining BYU's Jimmer Fredette, Washington's Klay Thompson, UCLA's Malcolm Lee and Providence's Marshon Brooks.
Still, the 6-foot-6 Burks' resume features an asterisk or two. While gifted athletically and a stellar ball-handler, his jumper from the NBA three-point range needs honing. And, at a slender 195 pounds (his listed roster weight at CU), there have been questions about him being able to hold up physically in what he calls "a grown man's league."
But this might be chief among Burks' upsides: Physical maturity still awaits him; he doesn't turn 20 until July 20. During an in-season interview with NBADraft.net, he said he was "trying to put on weight every day . . . I don't really let it bother me, but I can understand (NBA teams) wanting me to get stronger, though. (I'm) lifting, eating healthier every day, just (trying to) put on the weight any way I can."
Still, Burks' slender frame wasn't anywhere close to being a detriment in the college game. He routinely got to the rim (and the free throw line) and scored on a variety of acrobatic, jaw-dropping moves - attributes that will aid him at the next level while he improves his perimeter shooting.
Plus, he finished his brief CU career as one of the top rebounding guards in school history, attributing that to "my desire to rebound . . . combined with great athleticism and wanting it more than somebody else wants it."
Burks' two-season scoring average at CU was 19.0 points, third all-time, and he holds both the school freshman (512) and sophomore (779) seasonal scoring records. He was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 Conference selection in 2010-11, an honorable mention All-America selection (Associated Press) and an all-tournament NIT honoree (24.3 average in four games) as the Buffs advanced to the NIT semifinals in New York in March.
Burks has retained the same agent (Andy Miller) as former CU star Chauncey Billups. But Higgins, of Danville, Calif., still might head into draft day with a bit more NBA savvy than his former CU teammate. Higgins' father is Rod Higgins, general manager of the Charlotte Bobcats, and his godfather is Michael Jordan, with whom he became acquainted while working as a ball boy during Rod Higgins' 13-year NBA playing career.
After working out for the Nuggets earlier this spring, Cory Higgins told nuggets.com that his father's occupation and NBA history has helped to "get my head on straight and make me realistic about things and about my future. I think that's the biggest thing - helping me keep my head on straight."
Higgins finished his career holding half a dozen school career records and was the only Buffs player to total at least 2,000 points (2,001), 500 rebounds (547), 300 assists (320) and 150 steals (192) - tangible proof of a well-rounded game.
At about 180 pounds, the 6-5 Higgins is as wiry as Burks, if not more so. Higgins also is considered a shooting guard but he often played the point position at CU, with that versatility and his hoops IQ hopefully increasing his NBA value.
"I can play two positions and guard two positions, more importantly," Higgins told NBA.com. "I think that's the biggest value I have in trying to make an NBA team."
While Burks is in no way considered an under-the-radar NBA prospect, Higgins believes being undervalued might benefit him. He's banking on NBA teams recognizing his pedigree, his court IQ, and offering him the chance to land on a roster.
Unlike Burks, Higgins won't have an up-close-and-personal view of the upcoming draft proceedings. That's by choice. In fact, Higgins said he might not view it at all: "I'm not going to think about it, to be honest. I don't even know if I'm going to watch it (on television). I'm just going to see how it goes (and) take the next step."
Burks' first step toward the NBA was his most difficult. He decided in April to declare his eligibility for the draft. The only advice Dina Burks gave her son during that process was the same when he was deliberating on a college: "Just pray about it. When we make big decisions, that's what we do. He was comfortable with (deciding to come out); he had a peace about it."
Alec eventually earning his degree "has always been part of the plan," his mother said. "I've told him that, his grandmother has told him that. His brother (Steve) graduated last year from Peru State (Nebraska). It's just something we do in this family - we graduate.
"It may take him a little longer, but eventually he'll get it finished."
On Thursday night, he'll get his future started, following the plan Dina Burks always knew was out there.