basketball player Keith Burgess, who had some setbacks early in his life,
attributes his success so far to athletics and his mother.
Burgess, athletics was more than just a way to fill time. He found that being
involved in sports taught him a lot about life, how to cope with loss, and the
power of positive relationships. Sports gave him a chance to get out of an environment
filled with crime and dead-end options.
was born in Newark, N.J., raised in Irvington and lived in Hillside for more
than half of his life. His childhood was not the average upbringing most
children experience. When he was just 7,
his father passed away, leaving just his mother, Cyrenthia Burgess, to raise him
in a city known for its low socio-economic status. Burgess admits it was tough
to understand his new reality.
father used to take me to the park and do things,” he said. “When he was gone,
I would just sit in the house all the time.” Burgess’ mother knew she needed to
find some way to help him, but she was also hurting.
wasn’t long before she pushed him in the direction of athletics – to get him
out of the house to do something productive. “My mother got me on a football
team, flag football at first, and that became my first love,” he said.
he loved football, Burgess was eventually introduced to basketball through a
youth recreation league in Irvington. It was the first time he realized he had
a natural gift for the sport. Over the next few years, he began to develop his
skills and eventually joined an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team.
began playing AAU basketball for the Newark Pal,” he said. "It was great; we
went to Florida two years in a row for tournaments. I began playing every
summer for years.”
as he moved into the high school ranks, in addition to his positive experiences
with basketball, he was exposed to some socially negative influences while
spending time with friends who had very different ideas about life.
“There were times I would come home and my
mother was in tears wondering where I was and asking why I didn’t answer the
phone,” he said. “I brushed her off a lot at that age. My friends never had
much going for them, and she saw the difference between us. I didn’t, but she
continued this lifestyle through much of high school. All the while he heard
his mother’s words and advice in the back of his mind. As graduation neared, he
knew he wanted to continue playing at the next level. His coach knew he had the
skills to play as well.
he was going to play at Albright College in Reading, Pa., a school close to
home. There he met an assistant coach named Britt Moore, who, as fate would
have it, left Albright shortly thereafter to accept his first head coaching
position at Pitt-Bradford.
immediately contacted Burgess’s AAU coach about the possibility of setting up a
visit. Moore knew the skills Burgess possessed and knew he could be a playmaker
on his new team.
thought he was a very confident player who was a very good defender and had the
ability to finish at the rim,” Moore said. “He excelled in big situations and
felt confident and comfortable in late game situations.”
one visit with Moore, another teammate and his mother for Burgess to know it
was the right fit. Burgess fell in love with the campus and appreciated the
young coach’s disciplined style.
hadn’t been out of the mix as a player for too long,” he said. “He was young
and seemed to be a players’ coach. I really respected that.”
campus, Burgess credits teammate Brandon McClester for taking him under his
wing and showing him the ropes of balancing classes with practice, as well as
getting in the weight room.
and I started working out together every day. I knew I needed to stay in the
weight room and he pushed me to do that. That gave me the strength I needed to
play at this level.”
strength and determination in the weight room led to immediate productivity on
the court. Throughout his career he has been the go-to player for the Panthers.
entering his senior campaign, Burgess sits just 11 points shy of becoming
Pitt-Bradford’s newest member of the 1,000-point club, an honor he and his
mother are excited about. Set to
graduate on time, Burgess currently credits his mother with all of his success
to this point.
keeps me going,” he said. “I have to credit her for everything because she
taught me as a kid the importance of not giving up and to keep fighting. She
told me to never look back, but to always keep pushing forward.”
his mother and basketball, Burgess admitted he’d likely be in a bad place.
“Honestly, I would say I’d be dead or in jail. This path has humbled me and
given me a sense of direction in life.”
Five years from now, Burgess hopes
to be in a stable career and possibly looking to start a family. His mother has
mentioned graduate school, but he has no plans for that just yet. For now, he has one year of eligibility
remaining and he plans to enjoy life on the basketball court and in the classroom.