Deonte Burton is finally embracing the raw power in his game at Iowa State
The force of nature scorer is coming into his own for the Cyclones.
Iowa State wasn’t going to take any chances with Omaha after watching its 37-game non-conference home winning streak get snapped by Cincinnati in overtime last week. Deonte Burton made sure of that himself.
The Cyclones gave Burton the ball on their first five possessions, and the redshirt senior delivered every time. Five shots, five makes, no other Iowa State player even attempting a field goal. It was a one-man force of will as pure as any you will see on a basketball court:
— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneMBB) December 6, 2016
This is the Deonte Burton the Cyclones have been waiting for, a 6’4, 250-pound wrecking ball who can score all over the floor. At his best, Burton is one of college basketball’s must-see acts. There is no player in the country like him, a short-but-stout lefty power forward who overcomes his lack of height with unparalleled raw power and a relentless mindset toward attacking the defense. Finally, it’s all coming together for him this year.
Burton’s first breakout performance came against Miami, when he dropped 21 points in Iowa State’s best win so far this season. He was even better two days later against Gonzaga, taking over down the stretch to finish with 29 points and 12 rebounds in a close loss.
A year ago at this time, Burton was waiting to make his mid-season debut as a transfer from Marquette. Now he might be the key to the Cyclones chances in the Big 12 and beyond. This is still the player who can effortlessly windmill in a pair of Timberlands, but he’s so much more than that at this point, too:
It’s been a long road for Burton to get here, finally the primary scoring option for a legitimate top 25 team. The Milwaukee native was a consensus top-60 recruit coming out of high school, bouncing from Vincent High School to New Hampshire prep school Brewster Academy and back to Vincent before pledging to play for Buzz Williams at Marquette. After struggling to find playing time as a freshmen, Burton saw Williams bolt for Virginia Tech once the season ended.
Before the start of his second year, Burton received the heartbreaking news that his mother lost her battle with breast cancer. He needed a new start, and announced he would transfer to Iowa State to play for Fred Hoiberg after appearing in just eight games for Marquette as a sophomore.
“It’s a perfect fit,” Burton said at the time. “Iowa State, it’s a lot of transition, and it feels like a new family. I wanted to get further away from home.”
“It wasn’t too far away from home, but it was far enough away from home where I could leave the troubles of home. At home, my mother just died, so I didn’t want to be around the whole atmosphere of that.”
Burton initially had to pay his own way to attend to Iowa State with the Cyclones out of scholarships. When that year ended, Burton again saw the coach who recruited him take another job. Hoiberg was off to the NBA to coach the Chicago Bulls, and Steve Prohm was hired from Murray State to take over.
The personal tragedy and unsettled career path could have derailed anyone, but Burton didn’t let it happen. He became eligible on Dec. 19 last year and turned the short season into a successful one, winning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Now Burton finally has the role and the home he always needed, and Iowa State is reaping the benefits.
Burton looks nothing like a traditional power forward, and that’s the secret to his success. His wide base, low center of gravity and 7-foot wingspan makes up for whatever he’s lacking in height. He also gets to play in a spread floor surrounded by two knockdown shooters in Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas and one of the best pure point guards the college game has seen this decade in Monte Morris.
With all that space, Burton has room to rumble into the lane. That’s always been the strength of his game, even dating back to his Marquette days:
Now he can pair that explosiveness with a jump shot to keep defenses honest. He’s always been a good shooter in small doses, but he’s started to increase his volume recently. Over the last four games, Burton is 9-for-13 from three-point range.
What Iowa State has is the perfect complement to Morris’ careful and refined leadership at point guard. Burton is a matchup nightmare come a life, a forward capable of bullying his way to 20 points on any given night.
Instead of trying to mold him into a traditional role, Iowa State has simply let Burton be himself. The result is a completely unique player who can break any defensive scheme. Throw a big on him and Burton will use his speed to get to the rim. Throw a smaller, quicker player on him and Burton will use his strength to bully his way to the basket. Play zone and he’ll shoot over the top.
Burton doesn’t look anything like what we’re used to seeing in college basketball, and that’s what makes him appointment viewing.