Bob Burke’s legacy remains deeply rooted at Chowan

Published 11:38 am Saturday, February 6, 2016


Even a busted hip could not prevent Bob Burke from enjoying his special day.

Former Chowan player Ray Henderson offers words of thanks to his former coack, Bob Burke, at a reception held Saturday night at the Jenkins Center in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.-- CAL BRYANT| ROANOKE-CHOWAN NEWS-HERALD

Former Chowan player Ray Henderson offers words of thanks to his former coack, Bob Burke, at a reception held Saturday night at the Jenkins Center in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.– CAL BRYANT| ROANOKE-CHOWAN NEWS-HERALD

As planned on Saturday, Chowan University honored their former men’s basketball coach by formally naming the court at the Helms Center in his honor. The court dedication ceremony was held at halftime of the Virginia Union at Chowan men’s game, a CIAA contest won by the Hawks, 82-71, which also put a smile on Coach Burke’s face.

As part of the halftime ceremony, Chowan University President Dr. Chris White presented Burke with a plaque that contained two strips of the “hardwood” from the famed Helms Center court.

“Coach Burke brought great excitement, great success, and great acclaim to this place,” said White. “This is your place; this is your court.”

“I’m so honored to have this court named for me; thank you to the (Chowan) Board of Trustees and to Dr. White for this honor,” Burke remarked, confined to a wheelchair following surgery to repair a broken hip.

As he made his remarks, Burke’s emotions were evident as he noted the presence of his two sisters, Jerri and Marion; his wife, Jane; son, Rob; and daughter, Ashlyn.

“I have to say something special about my wife, Jane; without her I wouldn’t be here accepting this honor,” said the coach. “And I wouldn’t be here without my players. I had a great experience here; there are so many great memories here. I love Chowan University.”

Between his high school coaching stops (Wallace Rose-Hill and High Point Central) and riding the bench as a coach at Campbell University, Greensboro College and then Chowan, Burke spent 33 years coaching in North Carolina. He later coached at the NCAA Division I level (University of Hawaii) and the National Basketball Association (Portland Trailblazers).

In his 22 seasons at Chowan, Burke complied a 419-217 record, which included 12 consecutive 20-plus win seasons. He was a six-time Eastern Tar Heel Conference Coach of the Year, and three-time NJCAA Region X Coach of the Year.

Burke proudly watched as 35 of his former Chowan Junior College players sign athletic scholarships to play at the NCAA Division I level. Seven of those went on to play in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference.

Three of his teams (1984, ’88, and ’92) advanced to the NJCAA National Championship Tournament; one (’84) reached the Final Four.

Twenty-five of his former players are now coaches at the high school, college and professional (Nate McMillan and Fred Vinson) ranks.

One of those current day basketball coaches is James Thompson, a Chowan Brave from 1989-1991 and now the head coach at Culpeper County (Virginia) High School where his club is off to a 12-3 start this season and ranked in the top 10 among the state’s Class 3A schools.

“I use basically the same x’s and o’s that coach Burke used while I was at Chowan, but we play at a more up-tempo pace,” said Thompson while in the dinner line at the post-game reception on Saturday. “As far as guard play, I incorporate a lot of that same style today as when I played here at Chowan. It works.”

After his sophomore season at Chowan, Thompson completed his collegiate career at George Mason University and then tried out for a couple of pro teams overseas. He also played baseball at Chowan for coach Jerry Hawkins and was drafted by the Kansas City Royals.

“I taught PE (Physical Education) for 10 years and then got into high school coaching,” said Thompson.

Mike Allen played for coach Burke’s Braves when Chowan transitioned into a four-year university (1994-94). He’s now the Athletic Director at Norfolk (VA) Christian School following a 13-year career there as the boys basketball coach.

“When I was coaching I recall doing some of the same things I learned under coach Burke,” said Allen, who met and later married a former Chowan softball player, Jennifer Murden. “We ran basically the same offense, the UCLA flex that coach Burke learned from coach (John) Wooten. I learned a lot from coach Burke.”

At Norfolk Christian, Allen coached James Michael McAdoo, who went on to play for the UNC Tar Heels.

The game, and a reception that followed at the Jenkins Center, was attended by a small army of Burke’s former players and family members.

“Can you believe this,” said Rob Burke, the coach’s son and former Chowan player who is now the Director of Basketball Operations and assistant coach at Georgia Southern University, as he pointed to the huge turnout on Saturday at the Helms Center. “What a great honor for my dad to have the court named in his honor, but I think he was more touched by seeing and talking to all of his former players. It’s all about love and respect.”

Carlton Modlin, an eastern North Carolina native (Jamesville in Martin County) who played for the then Chowan Braves in 1994-98, said it felt good to be back inside the Helms Center with his former coach as well as ex-teammates.

“I’m so glad that Chowan decided to honor Coach Burke in this way,” said Modlin, now a father of four daughters and living in Pinehurst where he works in the textile industry. “Coach was tough, but he was fair, and he taught us more than just basketball; he taught us how to be men and how to use other skills to make our way in life. I’ll never forget what he taught me.”

The reception featured numerous collegiate coaches who shared their best wishes to Burke via a pre-recorded video. Among those coaches were Billy Lee, the former head coach at Campbell and now an assistant on the UNC-Chapel Hill women’s team; former Wake Forest head coach Dave Odom; current head NC State men’s coach Mark Gottfried, and current Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“To have your name placed permanently on the Chowan University basketball court, what a wonderful honor that is,” said Odom.

“I’m thrilled for you Bob on this honor,” stated Gottfried. “In my short time here at NC State I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and to learn from you. You have one of the great minds in all of college basketball.”

“Bob, it’s so appropriate to have the court there at Chowan named after you,” Krzyzewski said. “You’ve been one of the best; you were committed to your school and to the players there at Chowan. To be honored this way forever is terrific and well deserved.

“You have many, many friends in the college basketball community who admired you so much for the work you’ve done,” the Duke coach continued.

Burke’s former Chowan assistant (and later head coach) Jim Tribbett also shared his feelings on the video.

“I can’t think of any one coach that has given more to one program than you,” Tribbett noted. “You raised a family there in Murfreesboro and then raised the level of basketball there to the national level. I want to thank you for what you did to help my career. I know the players there today to honor you feel the same way.”

The video also feature former Chowan star Fred Vinson (Class of 1991) who completed his collegiate career at Georgia Tech and played professionally with the Atlanta Hawks.

“This honor of having your name placed there on the basketball court is well deserved,” said Vinson, a Northampton County native who is now an assistant coach with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. “You spent thousands of hours on that court, teaching your players the fundamentals of basketball. I love you, coach.”

At the reception, Burke used the opportunity to thank everyone for their support of Chowan basketball over the years. But if there was one who received the highest amount of praise, that honor went to a man that Burke called the “backbone of Braves basketball.”

“Dr. (Hargus) Taylor meant so such to me and to what we were able to build into a national basketball program here at Chowan,” Burke stressed. “Dr. Taylor handled all of the academics; he kept the guys on their toes in the classroom. Without him we could have never built what we had here. I can’t thank Dr. Taylor enough for what he accomplished.”

He also praised the Murfreesboro business community for their financial support of the Northeastern Businessman’s Classic, which developed into the biggest basketball tournament on the east coast for junior college teams of that era.

Burke thanked his family for their support. His voice trembled when talking about the pride he had as a father to be able to coach his son in college; to help his daughter establish herself as a women’s basketball coach; and to his wife for working hard at day as the Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools and then as the wife of a basketball coach at night.

“You may take notice of all the memorabilia, the newspaper clippings and photos over there on the tables, but the memories I have of this place, of Chowan, are right here,” Burke closed, pointing to his heart. “I love you all; thanks for sharing this night with me and my family…and that family includes my players who I know shared a lot of memories with each other here tonight.”