From troubled youth to the 1,000-point club

Keith Burgess
Keith Burgess

 By CHRIS BURNETTE 

Sports Information Director 

 

Pitt-Bradford basketball player Keith Burgess, who had some setbacks early in his life, attributes his success so far to athletics and his mother.

For Burgess, a business management major from Hillside, N.J., 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.

Burgess 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.

“My 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.” His mother knew she needed to find some way to help him, but she was also hurting.

It 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.

Even though 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.

“I 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.”

However, 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 did.”

Burgess 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.

Originally, 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.

Moore 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.

“I 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.”

It took 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.

“He 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.”

Once on campus, the guard credits teammate Brandon McClester, a sports medicine major from Pittsburgh, for taking him under his wing and showing him the ropes of balancing classes with practice, as well as getting in the weight room.

“Brandon 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.”

Burgess’ 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, clocking 718 minutes on the floor last year, the second most on the team.

Now entering his senior campaign, the Panthers’ leading scorer 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.

“My mom 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.”

Without 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.

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