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September 27, 2013After 11 seasons overseas, Chris Burgess has come home. Burgess, who played two seasons for the University of Utah after transferring from Duke, has made it back to his alma mater to finish his degree and begin the coaching ranks as an undergraduate assistant coach.
"It's been great, the staff with Coach (Krystkowiak) and the rest of the guys have really good to me," said Burgess. "It's been a learning experience being around those guys and trying to absorb as much as I can from what they've been building on for the past couple seasons. (I'm) trying to get to know the plays on a player and coach level as best I can because I've been a player for the majority of my life, so I try to be that liaison between player and coach."
As nice as it has been, only being an undergraduate assistant can have some disadvantages for a guy who wants to soak in the coaching aspect of the game as much as possible. "I'm still in school, so as far as being in the office all day, I don't have that luxury because I'm in school dealing with classes as well, but when I am there I'm always picking their brains, asking if there's anything I can do, any help they need," he explained.
Of course with the negatives, there are also positives and Krystkowiak and the rest of the team are fortunate to have Burgess' expertise at their disposal on a nearly unlimited bases.
"With the undergrad position I can be involved (with the players), so I'll lace them up. I won't have a practice jersey on, but I'll lace them up and be ready to go in case I need to jump in there and guard some of the guys, play one-on-one with the guys during individual (workouts). There's no rule against that. If a big comes down with an injury, I'll jump in. It's good for me to bang with these guys and bring example, my knowledge out there on the floor," he said.
Aside from "lacing them up," because of Burgess' title, he has access to the team when other coaches cannot.
"He's been great," said head coach Larry Krystkowiak. "You know, number one, he's a Ute and he's a big guy. It's a win-win situation for him to come back and finish up his degree and through how the NCAA rules are he gets to spend a lot of time on the court that the other coaches can't. He's got an experience where he's played professionally and he's played at a high level. He's a smart guy that our players can lean on, and just one of the advantages is he's spent a lot of time with our posts teaching them some things that we're not going to have the ability to do until our practices start."
Krystkowiak added, ""He wants to get into coaching and this, to me, is set up perfectly for him to be able to advance and hopefully move up the ladder here at some point."
It is still a little over a month away before Ute fans start to find out how big of an impact Burgess might have on the 2013-14 Utes, but for now, he is just thrilled to be back home. "I can't say enough to say how much fun its been being back on 'the hill,' my alma mater," said Burgess. "It's a place that I've cheered for in the ups and downs the last 11 years since I've been away."
So what is his early assessment of the team before the rest of the coaches get to put the guys to work?
"I think the group that we have this year is really good," claimed Burgess. "We're in a very good conference, so we're going to be tested, but it's one of those things where we're going to have to take care of our home games, we just have to and we have a lot on the schedule. If we take care of our home games, both non-conference and conference, I think that we're going to have a really good season.
"We're really close (to a breakthrough) and I'm optimistic with the players and staff we have this year that we're going to break it, we really are."
So far the transition seems to have worked well for Burgess, who, with being recently retired, still prefers to physically go through Utah's plays, so that he has a better grasp when teaching them.
"I hope that any knowledge I can bring both as an example and vocally is only going to help this team," said Burgess.