BOULDER - Colorado's portion of The Alec Burks Watch is over - or maybe just beginning. CU's highly acclaimed sophomore guard announced at an on-campus news conference Thursday afternoon that he is leaving school early for the NBA, leaving the Buffs and a burgeoning number of followers to watch his progress from afar as he launches a professional career.
"I'm glad . . . I'm glad everybody can get off my back now," Burks said of his decision. "It's been a long time coming. It's a great day; my mom, my brother are happy. When you see somebody realize their dream, it's always a great day."
The run-up to the dream has been harrowing. Burks had deliberated on the decision since the end of the 2010-11 season in which he helped lead CU to a school-record 24 wins and to the NIT semifinals in New York. Only the third CU underclassman to declare himself eligible for the NBA Draft (the first was sophomore Chauncey Billups in 1997, the second was junior David Harrison in 2003), Burks had said his decision would be based on how high he was projected to be selected in the June 23rd draft.
In its most recent mock draft, NBADraft.net viewed Burks as the tenth overall selection. Nonetheless, until a Wednesday meeting with a trio of prospective agents - he hasn't yet signed with one yet but plans to - and still more discussions with those closest to him, Burks said he had decided to return for his junior season and continue "kicking with everybody."
"I was coming back," he said before weighing input from the potential representatives, his mother, his former AAU coach, CU Coach Tad Boyle and Billups. Boyle said with "an unbelievable amount of distractions" bombarding Burks, the slender sophomore had "handled it as well as any young man could have handled what he's gone through this year."
But in the end, the prospect of being paid to play hoops and being able to assist his family spoke loudly to Burks - and in good conscience, Boyle couldn't offer a rebuttal. "I ask our players to be unselfish (and) as the head coach at Colorado, this guy makes me a better coach. We're better with (Burks) at Colorado than we are with him going to the NBA. There's no question about that," Boyle said.
"But for me to try to recruit him and sway him back, to try and not do what's in his best interest, I'd be acting selfishly. I'd be a hypocrite; it's not something I'm interested in being. So as hard as it's been, as much as we'd love for him to come back and join us, it's a decision he has to make for himself and his family - and we respect that."
At the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, Burks believed he was going to be an NBA lottery pick, and with several players who might have been just in front or behind him electing to return to school he said "this was the perfect time for me to come out . . . it was something I couldn't pass up."
The NBA's current collective bargaining issue - a lockout by owners is possible on July 1 - was not a factor in Burks' decision. "It didn't really matter to me," he said. "The NBA is a dream of mine . . . I've got to take advantage of the time and where I'm at right now. I've got a high draft status and I have to take advantage of it. I'm going to get paid regardless; I'm going to get paid for playing basketball."
According to Boyle, that Burks hasn't signed with an agent yet should not offer a glimmer of hope that Thursday's decision will be reversed: "This is what he wants to do; this is a dream of his. He hasn't determined if he's going to sign with an agent or when, but that'll take care of itself."
As for being NBA-ready, Burks said he must "work on every aspect of my game. I need to get stronger; I'm going to a grown-man league. I need to work on my jumper. I'm going to work on everything to get my game right for the NBA."
And Boyle termed Burks' readiness for the next level "risk-reward - and it takes me back to my investment days. You have to look at the risk of coming back and the reward of coming back. You have to look at the risk of going forward in the NBA Draft and the reward. The rewards are pretty obvious. I think if you took money out of the equation, it'd be a pretty simple answer. But money's money, and you're talking about a situation where Alec can put himself on a course to take care of himself and his family for years to come . . . it's hard to say he's making a bad decision."
A lightly recruited high school player from Grandview, Mo., the 6-foot-6 Burks blossomed for the Buffs over the past two seasons, totaling 1,291 points and setting school seasonal scoring records in both his freshman (512 points) and sophomore (779) years. Additionally, his total as a sophomore broke Cliff Meely's long-standing seasonal mark of 729 set in 1970-71.
Burks was his team's leading scorer (20.5 average) and was one of two unanimous first-team All-Big 12 Conference selections as well as being one of 20 finalists for the prestigious John Wooden Award. Averaging 25.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists, he led CU to the Big 12 tournament semifinals for the first time and became the first Buffs player to make the all-tournament during their 15 seasons in the conference.
He conceded his productivity in one of the nation's best leagues left him "very amazed. A lot of people didn't expect this, and I probably didn't expect it for myself." The realization that he could not only compete but excel in the Big 12 came after his freshman season. "Basically I had a great year in one of the best leagues in the country," he said. "I felt like after that I could get to the next level."
Burks' teammates shared in his excitement, but were realistic about what his exit means for next season as the Buffs enter the Pac-12 Conference.
"I'm just happy for that man," said point guard Shannon Sharpe, maybe the closest of any of the Buffs to Burks. "He had to go out and make a decision - and he made it. He's about to go out there and do his thing. Now, instead of me watching him on the court, I'm going to be watching him from the bed (on TV).
"Alec and me will still be cool, we'll still be close. It just means there's not going to be a lot of face-to-faces. There's going to be a lot of wireless, a lot of WiFi, a lot of texts - that type of stuff."
Added forward Andre Roberson: "We're going to miss him. We all wish him the best of luck . . . I think it was the best decision he could possibly make, the best for him. We're all happy for him."
But Sharpe also called Burks' departure "a big loss. The man is one of the best scorers in the country. We all have to make bigger contributions . . . you look at our team, we're going to have to be even more defensive-minded."
Boyle's incoming freshman class includes a trio of Los Angeles-area recruits - point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, shooting guard Askia Booker, forward Damiene Cain - and Jeremy Adams, a transfer from Navarro (Texas) Junior College.
In addition, transfers Carlon Brown (Utah) and Sabatino Chen (University of Denver) will be eligible in 2011-12 after sitting out this season in adherence with NCAA transfer rules.
But along with Burks, Boyle loses seniors Cory Higgins, Levi Knutson, Marcus Relphorde, Javon Coney and Trent Beckley. Burks' decision, said Boyle, "leaves us in the same position we were; we're just down a man - but a pretty darn good one. But in terms of the future of the program, it's as bright as it's ever been.
"We're losing a lot of production, but next year's team is going to be a new team whether Alec came back or not. Obviously we'd better with him than we are without him. But this doesn't change the course that Colorado basketball is on."
CU can use Burks' brilliant career and his decision "as a positive," Boyle said. "When we talk about kids' dreams, part of coming to this campus is following your dreams. Whether you're a basketball player or a chemical engineer or whatever the case may be . . . you want to follow your dreams. Alec's dream has been to play in the NBA. He's realized that at Colorado; that's something we can sell when we go into homes and talk about future Buffs."