By Tom Ballato
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.”
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.”