Christian Burns ’07 has spent the past six years playing basketball throughout Europe and the Middle East, but this summer he got the chance to shoot for the NBA. Burns, a standout center for the Rams, recently returned from the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where he played for the Memphis Grizzlies, auditioning for a spot in the top league in the world.
Burns averaged five points and 3.7 rebounds during his week in Vegas, relishing contact inside and getting to the free throw line. He hopes his performance earns him an invitation to an NBA training camp and an extended tryout.
Meanwhile, Burns, 27, expects to sign with a team abroad in the next couple of weeks. “I can make more money right now in Europe than on a rookie contract in the NBA, but my European contract will allow me the option to leave and try out for the NBA if I get the chance,” he said.
If he does get the chance, Burns would be the first PhilaU player to make an NBA roster. Head men’s basketball coach and Hall-of-Famer Herb Magee was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1963, and Randy Owens was a sixth-round draft pick of the Indiana Pacers in 1980.
“My friend [10-year NBA head coach] Jim Lynam’s favorite line about the NBA was, ‘It just takes one guy to like you,’ and that’s all Christian needs,” Magee said. “From there, it’s up to him to stick. He’s got a tremendous desire to get better, his potential was unlimited, and he’s stepped it up even more since he graduated.”
Since graduating, Burns has played in Poland, Portugal, Germany, Ukraine, Israel and, most recently, Italy.
During the 2012-13 season, Burns starred for Sutor in Montegranaro, a small town near Ancona on the Adriatic Sea. He averaged 14.9 points and 7 rebounds per game, finishing 11th in Serie A (Italy’s top division) in scoring and seventh in rebounding, dominating a blend of quality European players and former college stars who fell just short of the NBA.
Playing for Ukraine in 2011, Burns earned accolades as player of the year, forward of the year, import player of the year and a spot on the All-Ukrainian League first team.
“It was difficult in the beginning, getting used to living overseas,” said Burns, who won DII National Player of the Year award as a Ram in 2007. “It’s not easy being away from family and friends for ten months at a time. But after the first year my girlfriend [Emma Nazzaro Burns ’07; they married in 2009] came over with me, and it felt so much more like home.”
Despite his strong success and growing salary across the ocean, the Hamilton, N.J., native still dreams of playing in the U.S., going up against the best basketball players in the world.
“I’m 27, and in those summer league tryouts they usually want to see younger kids,” Burns said. “I go to Vegas every summer for my agent’s camp, and right before I left this year, Memphis contacted me and asked me to play for them.”
In addition to Burns, three other former Rams are making a living playing basketball overseas. Seven-foot center Temi Adebayo is playing in Qatar this season following stints in Nigeria and Romania, while point guard Russell Frederick ’10 led his Finnish team in assists while scoring more than 16 points per game. Leading the way is guard Tayron Thomas ‘06, who has bounced around in Latin America for much of his career before finding the right fit in Colombia this year, leading the league in scoring while taking home Player of the Year honors.