Burnatowski Brings Experience to Raiders
By Matt Dougherty, Patriot League Assistant Executive Director for Communications
Note: The following story appears in the 2013 Patriot League Basketball Tournament program.
Boys who grow up in Waterloo, Ontario, just 70 miles away from the Hockey Hall of Fame and the revered Toronto Maple Leafs, would be expected to lace up the skates and find the closest frozen pond to go chase their dreams.
But the passion for hockey was just never there for Murphy Burnatowski.
Despite coming from the city of just under 100,000, and having a father with a job that included access to NHL players, hockey never caught Burnatowski's attention as a child.
"I just never liked hockey," Burnatowski said. "My dad works for Bauer so he can get all of the equipment and was hanging out with NHL players all of the time, but it never really interested me. I played a lot of sports growing up but basketball became my favorite one and I stuck with it."
Burnatowski also dabbled in football, rugby, baseball and soccer, but it was clear that his success would be greatest in basketball. So clear, in fact, that as a sophomore he was invited to compete along with the best players in his country at the National Elite Development Academy. That led Burnatowski to a spot on the Canadian Junior National Team, where he helped the squad to a bronze medal in the 2008 FIBA Americas Under-18 Basketball Tournament.
The experience showed him what it takes to have success at the highest level and how he needed to improve as a basketball player.
"There were players there that have gone on to play Division I basketball across the country," Burnatowski said. "The game is so fast, and with the shorter shot clock you have to really focus on being able to run plays and read a defense."
There was no doubt he would go on to play Division I basketball himself, as Burnatowski was the third-ranked power forward in Canada according to HoopstarsCanada.com. That journey started at the University of Maine, and Burnatowski developed quickly and earned a spot on the America East All-Rookie Team in 2010. Despite a 17-point effort against Maryland and a 20-point game against Penn State early in his sophomore season, Burnatowski saw his playing time cut later in the year and decided it was time for a change.
Matt Langel had just been hired as the head coach at Colgate, and needed impact players for a team that had struggled in recent years. Insert Burnatowski, and a perfect match was born in Hamilton.
"The school has a very strong tradition of graduating its athletes and a very strong academic program, so that was obviously a very strong component of transferring here," Burnatowski said. "I clicked with the coaching staff right away, too."
As Colgate struggled through a 2-12 Patriot League campaign last year, Burnatowski could do nothing but watch from the sidelines and help the team improve in practice as he had to sit out his transfer season. But he was able to use that experience to improve his game before he would step back on the court this season.
"Whenever you take a year and practice at a high level in Division I, you are going to get better," he said. "I was just able to be with the team and watch the game and learn from that."
The Raiders took only half of the Patriot League schedule to eclipse last year's win total, and Burnatowski was a big reason for the success. He exploded for 35 points in a 93-90 overtime win against Army on Jan. 23, including the game-winning three-pointer with 12 seconds left as Colgate completed a comeback from a 14-point second-half deficit. That led to a 29-point effort in a 70-56 win at Navy three days later and his second Patriot League Anaconda Player of the Week award.
Burnatowski believes those results are just the beginning of what will come in Hamilton.
"We've been improving through practice and I think we're really starting to play well together," he said. "We get along really well and if we continue to play together we're going to get more comfortable with it."
Getting comfortable with teammates on and off the court is always an important factor, and one that the geography of the Colgate roster would seem to make more challenging. The Raiders have players from three different countries (Canada, Spain, Serbia) and cross the United States with student-athletes from Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Georgia in addition to states in the Northeast.
"It helps to have a lot of guys from different places because there aren't any outcasts, and a lot of guys are familiar with the situation in being far from home," Burnatowski said. "We have some people from here and they bring everyone in and make it feel like a family."
While the Raiders lose three significant seniors this year, they bring back the majority of their top players and also have two transfers that will be eligible next season in Austin Tillotson (Monmouth) and Ethan Jacobs (Ohio). That returning talent has Burnatowski thinking his two years at Colgate will be very competitive.
"Everyone knows that Lehigh and Bucknell have been the two powerhouse teams," he said. "But our League is really open, especially beside those two teams and there's a lot of teams fighting for those spots. Next year there's no reason why we can't be near the top of the league."
If they are, maybe Burnatowski can show another hockey-loving area about his skills on the basketball court.