Trey Jackson and Dean Burrows barely know each other.
The sophomore transfer guard for the Mississippi University for Women’s men’s basketball team met the Owls’ new coach a couple of weeks ago, but he already has a good handle on what Burrows brings to Columbus.
“He brings a lot of experience,” Jackson said of Burrows, who arrived at The W from Wesley College in Delaware, a college which no longer exists, having been absorbed by Delaware State University.
“He came from a winning program, and his knowledge of the game is very impressive,” Jackson continued. “He has the ability to get the guys to want to play harder for themselves and also play harder for him. He’s really special in getting the guys to buy in.
“I’ve only known Coach for about two weeks, but he treats us all like his sons, and that makes you want to play harder for him.”
Family is important to Burrows, and that always includes his players. When Wesley won the Atlantic East Conference tournament with him in the hospital, the coach, who had survived acute pancreatitis two years earlier — Burrows learned at the time he is a Type 1 diabetic — was represented by his son. Trey Burrows took his father’s seat on the bench, brought out the game ball and even helped cut down the net after the game.
As Burrows said at the time, his kids were always around the players, so “they have a bunch of older brothers who take care of them.”
“I love those guys, and I miss them,” he said Friday after his first practice as coach of the Owls. “But I’ve got a new opportunity here. Those guys will always be part of my life, and these guys, once they’re done here, will always be part of my life.”
All that is fine, but even in Division III, you play to win. And Burrows has done that, reaching the NCAA tournament as both a head coach and an assistant. And he sees the pieces are in place to achieve that kind of success, and maybe more, with the Owls.
“There’s a reason I’m here,” Burrow said. “We’re sitting on gold: the campus, the facilities — look around here — the cost, the apparel these kids get is second to none. Then you bring in our culture and how we do things, and that’s what’s exciting.
“I was six years somewhere else where we didn’t have any of this. For me, this is big time, and you blend our culture with what they have in place here, and I think it can be a very good situation.”
“Culture” to Burrows is not just a feel-good family atmosphere, although he expects that to materialize. It takes work to be part of Burrows’ family, from basketball skills to attitude.
“I see a lot of talent, a lot of hard workers,” said Jackson, a Starkville High School graduate who knows what it’s like to win championships. “We’ve got really good leadership in coach Burrows, and I’m really excited to get to work. Everybody seems like they’re all in.”
They better be.
“We’re going to hold these guys to a standard; the standard is not going to come down to them,” Burrows said. “We do a lot of community service. We’ve done 62 hours of community service already as a program, and it’s been a lot of the same guys.”
Community service is a major tenet of the philosophy at The W’s athletics department, but being there for each other is also part of Burrows’ standard.
“We did a rebounding drill, two on two, divided into teams, kept score,” Burrows said of a sequence during Friday’s practice. “We’re diving on the floor for loose balls, turning 50/50 balls into 80/20 balls for us. I saw a little bit of it, guys helping each other up off the floor.
“We’ll get to the point that we’ll have four guys sprinting over to help that guy up, and if not we’re going to have a problem, because that’s our culture. You sacrifice for us, we’re going to pick you up.”
Note there was no “if” at the beginning of that last sentence. But as Burrows says, INFE. “It’s not for everybody.”
The coach recalled a game at Wesley in which the Wolverines recorded 30 assists on 33 baskets. With Burrows, unselfish play is the bare minimum.
“I’ve been brutally honest with these guys from the jump,” he said. “If we lose a game, and you’re in the back of the bus talking about your stats, this isn’t for you, because we’re not going to have that. This is about us.”
More than 20 prospective players were on the floor at Pohl Gymnasium hoping to be part of “us,” but nothing is guaranteed. Not even in Burrows’ mind, because he purposely watched no film of last year’s abbreviated season, preferring to make his own judgments based on what he sees on that floor.
“You’ve got to have tryouts,” he said. “We’ll give everybody an opportunity because you just never know. There are only 200 minutes in a game, and you can only play five guys at a time, so at some point we’re going to have a lot of guys upset with me.”
That could happen sooner. Before the season begins — the first game is Feb. 12 at LaGrange College, and the home opener is Feb. 16 against Belhaven University — Burrows will have to turn in a roster to the NCAA, and there won’t be 20-plus names on it.
“We’re out there to compete,” he said. “This isn’t intramurals, and we’re going to play the five best guys. At the end of the day, we want to be successful and do things the right way.”
That’s fine with Jackson, who transferred from Northwest Mississippi Community College and has hit the ground running academically, going through his first midterms at The W with a 3.4 GPA — all As except for a C in economics. It would please Burrows to know that Jackson isn’t satisfied with a 3.4 and says he’s working on the economics grade.
That fits in Burrows’ world, where “everything matters” is another popular refrain.
“We’re trying to drill that into them,” he said. “Off the court, everything matters from how you get treatment, how you hydrate, how you eat, how you sleep, how you are in class, how you are in study halls. Everything impacts everything.”