January 20, 2021

Having Coached in College, the NBA, and the G-League, Burroughs Continuing Hoops Journey with PDS Program

VOICE OF EXPERIENCE: Eugene Burroughs directs his players during a summer pro league game. Boasting a resume that includes coaching at the Division I level, the NBA, and the G-League, Burroughs has taken the helm of the Princeton Day School boys’ basketball program. (Photo provided courtesy of Eugene Burroughs)

By Bill Alden

Eugene Burroughs has undergone quite a basketball odyssey since the 1980s.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Burroughs starred at Episcopal High (Pa.) and then went south to play college ball at the University of Richmond. During his freshman season in 1991, point guard Burroughs sank the game-clinching free throws as the Spiders upset Syracuse 73-69 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, becoming the first 15th-seeded team to defeat a No. 2 seed in tourney history.

Upon graduating in 1994, Burroughs worked as a salesman for Coca-Cola before he was pulled back into the game to become an assistant coach for the American University men’s hoops program.

From there, he had associate coaching stints at Marist, Hofstra, Navy, Penn State, and a second stop at Marist.

The NBA came calling in 2014 as Burroughs became the shooting coach for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. He later coached G-League teams in Delaware and California from 2016-20.

Now, the latest stop on Burroughs’ hoops journey is coming to Princeton Day School, where he has taken the helm of its boys’ basketball program, succeeding Doug Davis.

For Burroughs, getting into high school coaching gives him the chance to put down some roots and apply his knowledge in a different environment.

“The G-League is not a job where you make a career out of it; it is a very fluid, transient type of job,” said Burroughs, 48, who is also working at as an admission associate and athletics liaison in the school’s Admission Office.

“I loved coaching in the league, but for me, I just needed something a little bit more. I got to the stage in my life where I needed something different. I didn’t see where my next move was and where my path was going. I was looking for something more stable so I ended up looking at different

Burroughs found a good fit at PDS and is looking forward to working with players at an earlier stage of development.

“I am excited to get on the court with them; I have never coached high school basketball,” said Burroughs.

“It is definitely going to be a new experience for me and I am looking forward to just learning from the experience. I told my players when I met with them that I have a lot of experience. I have been at a lot of different levels but I don’t have the answers to everything.”

Growing up playing on the blacktops of Philly parks, Burroughs  learned some valuable lessons from that trial by fire.

“I was playing against grown men since seventh grade so you learn how to compete and play at that level and earn your stripes,” said Burroughs.

“When you play against older guys, the game is just different than when you are playing against kids your own age.”

Coming through in Richmond’s historic NCAA win remains a memorable competitive moment for Burroughs.

“I get fouled, I go to the free throw line; they call time out so now there is 21 seconds left in the game,” recalled Burroughs.

“We are up one and I am sitting down. I get off the bench and one of my good friends still today, Curtis Blair, who is actually an NBA referee right now, looks at me and goes you better make these free throws. I am like oh my God. I end up going to the line, I was always a very good free throw shooter. I take my two dribbles and let it go. I make the first, I make the second and we are up three. We come back down and get the stop and the game is over.”

After serving as a captain at Richmond, Burroughs went into the corporate world upon graduation, working as a salesman for Coca-Cola. But in the summer of 1996, one of his college coaches told Burroughs that American University was looking for an assistant and he jumped at the chance to return to the game and got the job.

It didn’t take long for Burroughs to realize that he had found his calling.

“I enjoyed the game as a player, I was a player-coach type of person,” said Burroughs.

“I would run the show. I love playing defense, that was part of who I was as a basketball player. When the opportunity came up to go to American to coach, I was like why not, let’s give it a try. That was my first time coaching, it was a great experience.”

Moving on to Hofstra in 1997, Burroughs worked with the legendary Jay Wright, who went on to Villanova and has led the Wildcats to a pair of NCAA titles.

“He was always particular about how he wanted things done,” said Burroughs, reflecting on his time with Wright.

“He would always say just get it done, I don’t want to hear any excuses, just find a way to get it done. It made you become creative. One of the things he said to me that I will never forget is that to advance in this profession you have to learn from the bottom to get to the top. You have to know what everyone’s role on your staff is. His thing was that you have to learn all aspects of the job to be successful.”

Staying in the realm of mid-majors, Burroughs worked as an assistant coach at Marist from 2000-04 and served at the associate head coach at the Naval Academy from 2004-11. He then headed into the big time, becoming an assistant at Penn State and getting a taste of the Big 10.

“From a basketball perspective, it was a great opportunity to see the next level, the arenas, and the players,” said Burroughs.

“You hear about these places and when you go and experience the environment in these places, it is unbelievable. It is amazing what the competition is like at that level and how challenging it is. The Big 10 is hard.”

In 2014, Burroughs moved up to the pro level, becoming the shooting coach for the Sixers.

“Even though my role was a shooting coach, which is helping the players technique and shooting, I soaked in all of the basketball knowledge,” said Burroughs.

“I didn’t hold myself to just shooting. I am in meetings for practice, I traveled with the team. I am getting the full experience. There was so much knowledge about basketball that I learned, it was unbelievable. I would say that from a coaching standpoint, it is something  that shaped me more than any other experience that I ever had. Brett Brown (Sixers head coach at the time) was a great teacher of the game. I just learned the game, looking at it from another way and from a very good teacher. The game is so different from college with the terminology they use. They talk about spacing on the floor. It is just the little nuances of the game. It made me a better coach.”

Using that knowledge, Burroughs headed to the G-League where he served as head coach of the Delaware 87’ers from 2006-18 and as associate head coach of the Agua Caliente Clippers from 2018-20.

“It taught me a lot because now you are in control,” said Burroughs.

“Now you have to manage the practice and manage the personalities on the team. You have to deal with all of the nuances of running a program. It was a great experience to make some mistakes, learn from your mistakes.”

As he takes the helm of the PDS program, Burroughs will be drawing on that experience.

“I told them that I am going to coach you like I would coach the G-League players,” said Burroughs.

“I wouldn’t say I am an up-tempo guy and that we are going to press you all over the place and score 100 points. It is more about just looking at the game in a different way. For me, that is spacing on the floor, learning the fundamentals, and helping them with shooting.”

In the process, Burroughs is looking to influence his players on and off the court.

“It will be fun to coach the kids and hopefully have an impact on them as basketball players and as people,” said Burroughs.

“I told the guys one of the things that is important to me is being respectful. I will be teaching them responsibility and being able to compete. You have to be able to compete because not only are you competing on the basketball floor, you have to compete in life.”