By CHRIS BURNETTE
Sports Information Director
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
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
“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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.