It takes a lot of work to build a program up.
Mississippi University for Women has had to find the right people for each of its athletic programs to do just that after the return of sports in 2017.
Head men’s basketball coach Dean Burrows is excited by that kind of task, and he’s even more excited to get Year 2 started in charge of an Owls program that has lacked stability with coaching and personnel.
“It’s not often in life that you get to build something how you see fit and really mold this thing,” he said of embracing the challenge.
Burrows moved to Columbus just two weeks before the start of the 2021-22 season, with his wife and four kids staying in Delaware until July of this year. He inherited a roster of 22 players, none of whom he recruited, and he kept just eight of them for this season. It was a year of difficult decisions to make, but he’s got a team now with players who have bought into him as well as the program.
“This program isn’t for everyone,” he said. “I’m not for everyone, and at the end of the year we had to have some tough conversations, and we had to make some changes. We ended up keeping eight, added six, and one came back after a couple years.”
Having that much changeover can be tough, but for Burrows, the change was necessary. For him, so much of the work he does is about relationships, and his goal is to be a part of his players’ lives rather than just being a coach on the floor.
“I’m going to be around these guys more than my wife and kids, so I’ve gotta make sure they’re the right fit for me, too,” Burrows said. “I tell them during the recruiting process that if this is just about basketball, this is never going to work because my job, my mission, is to prepare them for life.”
With the changeover comes adjustment, but many players see the bigger picture with Burrows. Quin Williams, a Columbus native, is one of them.
It’s personal for him, representing his hometown, and he’s ready to have the hometown crowd behind him again.
“Born and raised here, 22 years,” Williams said. “I got the city behind me; most of my family are here, so it feels good to play in my home city. Having the crowd behind us, not just for myself but also my teammates, too.”
Williams took some time off from the program when COVID-19 hit, and the program itself struggled to continue, but he’s back and buying into Burrows’ philosophy and his approach to building the Owls into something special as they move into Division II next year.
“He’s pushed me like I’ve never been pushed before,” Williams said of working with Burrows. “He’s made me so much better since I’ve gotten back here in August. I was training on my own, but I got here and he helped me get my stamina to a level I never thought I could reach. (Campus Recreation Personal Trainer and Bootcamp Instructor) Corey (Haynes) with the strength and conditioning program, Coach put a whole game plan in for us, and I’m glad. I’ve never had a coach like him before.”
In addition to players like Williams, Burrows also has the benefit of some familiar faces from his previous team joining him.
Brye Hopkins is one such player. He was recruited by Burrows at Wesley College, where the two won a regional championship together, and along with a couple other players, he followed his coach to The W. That relationship was strong enough for him to move across the country, and he’s had no doubts about his decision because of it.
“He’s not a coach for everyone,” Hopkins said, “but he’s a coach who will do whatever he needs to do to make sure his guys are prepared, and have everything they need on and off the court. He wants better men, better fathers, better people at the end of the day. For him, it’s bigger than basketball.”
It’s all about the process of building the right relationships in order to build the program. Hopkins, Williams and the rest of the team are Burrows’ guys, and though they may not all be able to see the fruits of their labor pay off in terms of program direction, their role is vital nonetheless in establishing a culture and identity that is sustainable going forward.
“You’ve got to build from the bottom up. We had a special program at Wesley, but me and my guy (Andrew Shepherd) both came from there, both understand what it takes to win, and we’re getting everyone to buy into the idea that we can do it, that anything is possible.”
The real test on the court starts soon, with an exhibition at Troy on Thursday before the Birmingham-Southern College Classic on Friday and Saturday The first home game for the Owls will be against Southern University at New Orleans on Nov. 15.
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