MISSOULA — Missoula Loyola grad Charles Burns was in the right spot at the right time.
Burns, the son of a former Northern Arizona player and a die-hard Lumberjacks fan himself, was leaning heavily to attending NAU for school. He also wanted to play college basketball, but he didn’t think both of those things would be simultaneously possible.
The 6-foot-1 guard got the chance to "be part of the program" and join NAU in more of a manager role this coming season, lifting with the team and stepping in at practice when the they needed a body. Maybe the next year he’d try to walk on instead of attempting that at an NAIA school in Montana with the hopes of one day reaching the Division I level.
But then head coach Jack Murphy, who Burns had known for years, left to be an assistant at Arizona. Burns became nervous about his opportunity, but his outlook surprisingly improved.
Shane Burcar took over the program on an interim basis, must have heard good stuff about Burns from Murphy and upped the offer to a preferred walk-on spot in the middle of June.
“It’s unbelievable,” Burns told 406mtsports.com on Saturday. “It’s like a weight’s just taken off my shoulders. It’s an unbelievable feeling to have. Watching these NAU players play throughout my childhood and then realizing that now I’ll be the one wearing the jersey and playing on the court, it’s hard to explain how I feel.”
Burns was a knockdown shooter for Loyola and projects as a point guard for the Lumberjacks.
While suiting up for Loyola, which will have five athletes playing college basketball or football this coming year, Burns averaged 12.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 steals while shooting 40.2% from beyond the arc and making a team-high 35 3-pointers. He scored a career-high 19 points in a rivalry win over Florence during the Rams’ run to a State B runner-up finish this past season.
Burns knows he’ll have to be more than just a shooter to stick around in college. He’s relied on advice over the years from coaches, one of whom was his dad, Brian Burns, who played at Florence before he went into the Navy and later walked on at Northern Arizona via the GI Bill from 1994-98.
“I’d describe my game as I like to pass the ball,” Burns said. “My main goal, what my dad taught me from when I was very little, is when you step on the court, you should be making your team better at all times. What’s the best play, not necessarily what’s going to help me, but what’s the best play offensively and defensively, too. I do take pride in defense. That’s one thing that when I get down there, I want to play defense on one side and also be an asset on the offensive end.”
Burns will bring a bulked-up body to Flagstaff, Arizona. He’s put on about 15 pounds this summer to get up to 160 after working out with Missoula-area trainer Doug Lefler. He's also practiced recently with graduate Montana Grizzly players.
Burns will head down to Northern Arizona on Aug. 18, with orientation set for Aug. 20. He knows the work has only just begun to assure Burcar he made the right decision.
“He told me you’re a walk-on,” Burns said, “so you definitely have something to prove to the coaches, but not only do I want you to give the starters a hard time — that’s kind of my goal, to work the starters and to make them better — but he also said he wants me to work myself into the position of getting some minutes as well. He said that he wants me to shoot for the stars, shoot for a starting spot, just keep on trying to move my way up into the lineup.”