Winthrop senior Justin Burton was recruited to play for Winthrop coach Randy Peele under difficult circumstances following the May 2007 death of reserve guard DeAndre Adams.
Burton, a 5-foot-10 point guard from Durham, N.C., came in and did the job he was asked to do. His first season he served as a backup to Chris Gaynor. The last three years he has filled in for Reggie Middleton.
He hasn't complained. Instead, he rose to the occasion when he was needed most. As a freshman, Gaynor got into foul trouble in the Big South Championship game. Burton played 19 minutes, dishing out five assists and hitting a 3-pointer to preserve a 66-48 win.
Last season, Middleton was injured in the conference finals at Coastal Carolina. Burton was summoned again. He played 21 minutes, scoring 11 points on 7-of-11 free throw shooting and tying his career-high with five rebounds. Winthrop won 64-53.
"He's had a solid career and his two championship games were big," Peele said. "I'm proud of him. He is a neat kid with tremendous basketball IQ."
His career numbers aren't eye-popping. He has averaged 3.7 points a game. But if you dig for things like assist-turnover ratio, he has made good contributions in the minutes he's played. In fact his career numbers in that category are slightly better than Middleton's.
If a stat line existed that measured lack of mistakes per minute, Burton may just lead the team. He has committed just two turnovers in his last five games spanning 52 minutes of playing time.
Burton isn't one to get caught up in personal numbers. He ranks fifth on Winthrop's list of career games played with 125. Wins are what matter most.
"I just want to go out with a bang," Burton said. "I have no regrets. Everything that has happened in my time here has been a learning experience."
Burton said going to the NCAA tournament and winning two conference championships have been highlights, but he hasn't spent time reflected on his career.
"I am focusing on this season," he said. "I want to go into the Big South tournament with a win streak."
On Saturday he will face VMI, a team he has played well against in his four seasons. He posted a career-high 18 points versus the Keydets as a sophomore and in seven career games he has scored 10.4 points to go with 18 assists and 10 turnovers.
Burton will graduate in May with a degree in Sport Management. He hopes to become a basketball coach.