Christian Burns (above) will try out for the Italian national team this week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)
Of all the benefits to getting married, a shot at the Olympics might not have been something Christian Burns considered.
Thanks to his wife’s Italian heritage, the former Philly U star gained Italian citizenship last year, and therefore became eligible for the Italian national team.
Now, 11 seasons into his professional basketball career, Burns is headed to Italy for pre-EuroBasket team camp.
“I’m just really excited to get the opportunity to represent a country, especially Italy,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
The camp, which starts this week, is his first stab at the international scene. He’ll first have to make the final 12-man roster, which is sure to feature the likes of Danilo Gallinari and Marco Belinelli, and that’s no easy task.
However, considering he got a call-up at 31 years old, and that Andrea Bargnani won’t be filling a roster spot, Burns figures the team won’t be wasting his time.
“Training camp is nuts because we just bounce around all over the place, like Africa and France, and there are little tournaments all over,” he said. “They bring in 24 (players) but bringing a 31-year-old guy, I’m sure they want to use me for something.”
If Burns makes it past training camp, it’s on to Tel Aviv for EuroBasket 2017. After that, he hopes to be called back for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. And while the 2020 Olympics might seem far away, they’re now within his reach.
For Burns, making it to the Games would be a dream come true.
“If I’m particularly playing in the Olympics, that would be the most amazing thing ever. That’s what every athlete I think believes is the ultimate dream, playing in the Olympics and representing a country,” he said. “You could call it the icing on the cake, I guess.”
Reaching the Olympics would be the perfect cap to Burns’s lengthy basketball journey, a career that started at Philadelphia University with Herb Magee.
Back in 2005, Burns, a New Jersey native, transferred to Philly U as a rising junior, and that decision spawned two seasons of unprecedented success for the Rams, with Magee breaking records, the team making consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and Burns earning Division II Player of the Year honors in 2007.
“Coming here was probably the best move I ever made because I came at the right time, when Herb was breaking records, everybody was coming to the school to watch, all eyes were on our team,” Burns said. “You know, when I got National Player of the Year, that probably is the biggest achievement of my basketball career, one of them.”
Playing in The Basketball Tournament has allowed Burns to revisit those fond memories each of the past three summers. While competing in a high-stakes tournament, he also gets the chance to see familiar faces from his college days, as was the case at last month’s TBT Jamboree.
“I love being able to play back on the court, seeing some of the people that I used to see everyday in college, and they’re still working here and stuff like that, because I’m never around. I’m always overseas for nine months a year, so it’s nice,” he remarked.
At the Jamboree last month, Burns averaged 18 points over two games to send the Broad Street Brawlers to the full TBT 2017 field, showing case in point that he’s still got it. And, having adapted to the stretch four-dominated European game, he even strutted a smooth three-point shot in front of the Gallagher Athletic Center crowd.
The other new skill he’s been putting to use with the Brawlers is his experience; Burns has taken fellow Philly U grad Peter Alexis, who’s going on his second professional season, under his wing.
“A guy like him I like to mentor a little bit,” Burns said. “He’s always hitting me up during the season, asking me for advice and stuff like that, how to handle coaches overseas, because some coaches are crazy.”
Having played in seven countries up to date, Burns knows a thing or two about managing a basketball career; it’s no wonder he hopes to become an agent following his playing days.
Right now, however, he’s focused on one country, and that’s Italy.
His playing days are far from over, and in fact, his national team career is just beginning. “I’m going to play until the wheels fall off,” he says.
Burns is going to ride this train as far as it goes.
Hopefully for him, it makes a stop in Tokyo come 2020.