George Mason standout Lamar Butler ready to lead The Green Machine in the The Basketball Tournament

By Tom Ballato

Former George Mason standout Lamar Butler who lead George Mason on their historic run to the Final Four in 2006, is back ready to lead again. This time Butler will be on the sidelines coaching The Green Machine, a team in The Basketball Tournament composed of George Mason alumni.

When Butler committed to play at George Mason, being close to home was a priority for him so his parents could see him play.  He wanted to build a national program in Fairfax, Virginia with his teammates, something that they accomplished while they played at Mason. Out of the gate, he played big minutes and had a large role as a freshman for coach Jim Larrañaga, something that continued to grow throughout his four year career. He finished his career at George Mason averaging 12.1 points per game and ranks first all-time in the team’s history with 295 three points made. He was part of two NIT appearances and the historic run to the Final Four in 2006.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Harty

Lamar had a lot of great memories during his time with the team. His favorite regular season memory from his time at Mason came during his senior year. “We were down 20 at half, at Hofstra. Folarin Campbell lead the huddle at the half and we came back and won. Campbell took leadership and he arrived.”

When George Mason got an at large bid in 2006, they were coming off two losses in ten days to Hofstra, including the semifinal loss in the CAA Tournament. When asked how they went on such an epic run after that in the NCAA Tournament, Butler explained, “We were a confident group. What motivated us was commentators on TV saying we didn’t belong. It gave us fuel to prove others wrong.” What also stood out to Lamar and the team was Coach Larrañaga preaching to them to, “Play hard, play smart, play together.”

Lamar went on to play professionally in the Czech Republic, Turkey, and the NBA Developmental League after college.  Lamar talked about his career overseas and said, “You need to bring your A game or they will replace you.” Lamar talked about how it is a different society overseas and you really need to lookout for yourself. The hardest thing for him playing overseas was having a coach that didn’t speak English. He also spent time with the Colorado 14ers and Reno Bighorns in the NBA Developmental League.

Lamar is now an AAU coach for Team Takeover and at Paul IV High School in Fairfax, Virginia. He said that he still has a strong relationship with his former coach and sees coach Larrañaga all year round while he’s on the recruiting trail.

Lamar recently announced that he will be coaching The Green Machine, an alumni team in the TBT Tournament. “They are Mason brothers, former greats. You root for guys you didn’t play with. Suiting up with the guys will be something special.”  The team has announced some notable Mason alumni, Folarin Campbell, Mike Morrison, Ryan Pearson, Isaiah Tate, Byron Allen, Will Thomas, and Sherrod Wright. The team’s general manager, Johnny Coleman said, “These guys are arguably the most successful players Mason has ever had, from the most successful era.” Also filling out The Green Machine’s staff are Corey Edwards and Killian Reilly.  Edwards played at George Mason for four years and Reilly was a team manager.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Harty

Every time Butler returns to George Mason, he exclaims, “It is always home. You see pictures and banners. Your legacy is cemented.” Butler will be leading the way for The Green Machine this summer with hopes to cement George Mason’s legacy in the TBT Tournament.

 

 

St. John’s alum Justin Burrell is leaving his mark in Japan and in The Basketball Tournament

By Tom Ballato

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Justin Burrell with Overseas Elite. Photo courtesy of The Basketball Tournament.

Justin Burrell arrived at St. John’s as a highly touted forward from Bridgton Academy Preparatory School. He was a key part of St. John’s 2007 recruiting class that featured Paris Horne, Sean Evans, D.J. Kennedy, and Malik Boothe. Justin influenced Paris Horne, a friend and teammate at Bridgton Academy to come to Queens to play for Norm Roberts at St. John’s.

Burrell’s freshman season, he appeared in all 30 games for St. John’s. He averaged 10.8 points per game and lead the team in rebounding with 178 rebounds. For his efforts he was named to the Big East All-Freshman team.

Justin appeared in 32 games his sophomore year, starting in 28 of them. He was forced to miss a few games after suffering a broken nose from a collision in practice and he was forced to play with a facial mask. He finished the season averaging 9 points per game. During his junior season, Justin saw his minutes decrease and he only started in eight of the teams games. He put up averages of 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

At the conclusion of his junior season, St. John’s decided to make a coaching change and hired Steve Lavin.

Lavin used Burrell off the bench his senior season and it was beneficial to both the team and Burrell. He was named 2011 Big East Sixth Man of the Year. He eclipsed the 1,000 point scorers mark at St. John’s during his senior season. The reward for the team’s hard work in 2011 was a trip to the NCAA Tournament. It was a rewarding way for Justin and his teammates to finish their collegiate careers.

Justin was a quick big man during his time at St. John’s. He had a physical presence on both ends of the floor and brought with him a winning attitude. Justin described his time at St. John’s by saying, “It was a solid time. I had higher hopes for my basketball career, but overall it was a very solid time.”  When asked what his favorite memory at St. John’s was, he said, “Making the tournament was the best memory I have by far.”

Justin went undrafted after graduating from St. John’s, but made noise across the globe his first season overseas in Japan. He was named the MVP of the Basketball Japan League and put up some solid numbers averaging 18.7 points per game to go along with 10 rebounds per game.

When I asked Justin, what are the biggest improvements that he has made to his game since St. John’s, he replied, “I have improved every part of my game since college. Being a pro means constantly improving in order to keep a job. College is about fitting a system. Learning to play basketball. Being a pro is about being the best you can be in order to win games for your team. Taking what you learned in college and refining that and being a polished pro. Growth is key!”

Justin has gone on to play professionally in France as well as Japan. He is currently playing in Nagoya, Japan. I asked him about his goals for this season and he stated, “The goal is to win as many games as possible. We have a good young team that can be very good as long as we continue to grow.”

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Justin Burrell with the two handed dunk. Photo courtesy of The Basketball Tournament.

Each summer Justin returns home to play in The Basketball Tournament with Overseas Elite. He plays alongside former St. John’s teammates Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy. They have won the tournament for the last four years.  I asked Justin about the experience playing in the TBT and reconnecting with his former teammates and he said, “The TBT is just a great opportunity to play at home for our fans and family to see. We are all still very close.”

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Justin celebrating with his teammates. Also pictured is former Johnnie Paris Horne. Photo courtesy of The Basketball Tournament.

“I had some fun with the Johnnies.” -Justin Burrell

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Former Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf is ready to learn and grow as a coach at Detroit Mercy

By Tom Ballato

Eric Devendorf is bringing his passion back to the court, but this time as a coach. After returning to his alma mater and spending the last two seasons on Jim Boeheim’s staff at Syracuse as an assistant strength coach, Devendorf left to become Special Assistant to the Head Coach at Detroit Mercy University. The former Syracuse standout, is providing energy and a work ethic to a young Detroit Mercy team.

In 2005, Eric arrived to Syracuse as a five star, McDonalds All-American recruit from Oak Hill Academy. As a freshman he started 30 out of the team’s 35 games. He averaged 12.2 points per game as a freshman. His sophomore year, he made jump in performance averaging 14.8 points per game while recording an average of 4 assists per game.

During his junior year, he played in 10 games and was averaging 17 points per game, before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. He qualified for a hardship waiver and was redshirted. He returned for his redshirt junior season and averaged 15.7 points per game. During the  Big East Tournament, he hit a shot that is still is remembered today. It was during a sixth overtime game versus Connecticut, which Syracuse eventually won. The shot did not count because time had expired before he got the shot off.

Eric made it work within Syracuse’s guard rotation that included Andy Rautins and Johnny Flynn, both had NBA talent and were drafted. Eric left Syracuse for a professional career after his redshirt junior season, forgoing his final year of eligibility. He went undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft, but went on to play in several countries overseas, including the NBA Developmental League. 

In 2016, he decided to end his playing career and begin the next chapter in coaching, at Syracuse. Devendorf returns to the court in the summer to play in The Basketball Tournament with Boeheim’s Army. Boeheim’s Army is a team filled with Syracuse alumni who come together just like old times and play to win $2 million dollars. 

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Eric Devendorf playing with Boeheim’s Army. Photo courtesy of Boeheim’s Army.

Devendorf has matured a lot since we last saw him in a Syracuse uniform. He was once one of college basketball’s most hated players. Trash talking and playing with a fiery attitude was a part of his game. The former Syracuse guard was also known for his scoring ability. Devendorf could put the ball in the cylinder night in and night out. He scored over 1,600 points at Syracuse and was a great three point shooter.

His new role has landed him at Detroit Mercy University, where he started in 2018 and is thriving. His experience allows him to mentor and help young athletes.  They have a scoring guard who is turning into a young star in Antoine Davis. Something Devendorf can relate too. 

Love him or hate him, Eric Devendorf was fun to watch at Syracuse!


 

How would you describe your time at Syracuse playing under coach Boeheim? 

My time at Syracuse was amazing, playing for a hall of fame coach and getting the opportunity to play in front of 30,000 fans is amazing. I played on some real good teams my time there and with some very good players. I am super grateful for that. Syracuse basketball is a family! 

What was your fondest moment at Syracuse?

Fondest moment would have to be the 6 OT game vs UConn. I still get asked about that ’til this day. Such an unreal game and being able to be a part of something like that is very special.

The Syracuse zone. What about the zone has made it so effective after all these years?

I think the zone is effective because coach is able to make little adjustments here and there depending on who we are playing and what type of players are out there. If they have more shooters or not. Maybe a high post threat. Whatever it is, coach is always able to tweak it to where it usually works in our favor. And obviously the players on the floor coach and his staff have done a great job of getting guys who are built for the zone, long and athletic guys. Guys who buy in and have some basketball awareness and sense out there. 

You played this villain role at Syracuse. Trash talking was a big part of your game, but you also played with this fiery edge. How would you describe your career at Syracuse?

I would say I had a pretty good career at Syracuse. The teams I played on were always competitive and we always had great talent. Individual wise, I left it out on the floor every time, that’s what I pride myself on, playing with all my heart and never backing down. 

Take us back to the Big East Tournament in 2009. Syracuse against UConn in the 6 overtime game. You hit the game winner as time expired, the referees ultimately waved it and you head to overtime. The game is an absolute dogfight and heads into 6 overtimes. You guys won the game,  but what was it like to be part of such a special game? 

Just like I said earlier, I get asked about that game ’til this day and it’s just very special to have been apart of that game. People who don’t even watch basketball know about that game! Having played a big role in the game and outcome just made it that much more special for me. 

You left Syracuse with a year left of eligibility. After going undrafted, you played in the NBA G-League and overseas. Where did you play basketball overseas?

I had a crazy pro career all over the place, got hurt, had to sit out, and came back. Super grateful for all the experiences. I played in Turkey, Ukraine, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Israel, and been to a few others (countries), but just being able to see the world and meet people and learn their culture all while getting paid to play the game that I love to play was priceless. My mind opened up a lot more because of those journeys. 

The past few years, you have played in The Basketball Tournament with Boeheim’s Army filled with Syracuse alum. How much fun is it to play again and play with Cuse alum? Do you plan to continue playing this summer?

Playing in the TBT with “The Army” brings back all kinds of memories. Being able to play with all my good friends and playing in front of all the fans is so awesome.  No one does it and comes out and support like Cuse fans, just that experience again is awesome to have. Hopefully I can continue to play. 

You came back to Syracuse in 2016 as an assistant.  Now you a Special Assistant to the Head Coach at the University of Detroit Mercy. How has coaching been and how have you used your college experience to mentor young players? 

Coach Boeheim gave me an awesome opportunity coming back on staff at Cuse. Being there for two years on staff was an unreal learning experience. To be able to learn from one of the greats is very humbling. Then being able to have another opportunity at Detroit Mercy under another great coach in coach Davis is unbelievable. Just thankful for the chance to learn from coach B and now coach Davis. I think what helps me a lot is being able to relate to the players, I was in their situation so I understand what they are going through. That helps me with teaching them and getting their attention on certain things. Just like they are learning from me, I am learning from them. They help me be a better coach. I’m looking forward to the continued learning process and growth in my coaching career.