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September 8, 2010

Q&A with Mount St. Mary's coach Robert Burke

On May 6, Robert Burke was hired to replace Milan Brown – departed for Holy Cross – as the Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball coach.

Burke, a former Georgetown assistant, had the next three months to put together a recruiting class. The end result was a three-man group for the Mountaineers.

The Mount's incoming scholarship freshmen are: Evan Cleveland, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., Josh Castellanos, a 6-foot-1 guard from Orlando, Fla., and Julian Norfleet, a 6-foot-2 guard from Virginia Beach, Va. Cleveland averaged 12 points, six rebounds and three assists as a senior for Elmhurst High, leading his squad to the state semifinals. Castellanos – the Florida 1A Player of the Year as a senior – guided Orlando Christian Prep to three straight state titles. Norfleet averaged 15 points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals as a senior for Landstown High, the Beach District regular-season and tournament champions.

Burke spoke with Recruiting Report this week about Mount’s 2010 recruiting class.

Cleveland was just announced as a signee a couple weeks ago. How did his recruitment develop so late in the game?

With Evan, I think it was August 20. He was someone that we had kept an eye on, but he was trying to figure out what was best for him, and we were trying to figure out what was best for us. It all came together in late August. So what’s what happened there. He’s a solid student, so there were no issues from a compliance side of things. It was just both parties figuring out what was good for them.

What aspects of his game really caught your eye?

We got some tape on him at some point. I was watching him and I just liked what I saw in terms of his potential skill set for [someone of] his size and athleticism, the ability to dribble the ball, his feel [for the game] and his vision. His strength is not his shooting at this point, but just his feel [is impressive]. He sees the passing lanes all the time. He had played some point guard, at 6-6, for his high school team. He’s not a point guard in the traditional sense, but he looks comfortable. He seemed to show a bit of potential in those areas.

The other thing about Evan is he played in a very good basketball area in Indiana against some good competition. He helped his team go to the semifinal game. They were very successful, had a deep run, and he played well on a significant stage.

Castellanos had some major individual and team success in high school. What does he bring to the table?

I believe Josh has won three state championships, so that’s what jumped out immediately. And then his game – he can run the team. When I looked at the team, we needed to shore up our ball handling and our shooting and our perimeter game some, especially from a skill-set [perspective]. And I think he does that. We were looking at a bunch of guys, and what put it over the top for me was just his leadership skills. The personality and the leadership that he had displayed, I thought was significant. He’s a little bit of a pied piper, and I thought that was important. And it’s played out kind of that way so far. He really brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to every encounter that you have with him.

Norfleet comes from an area where Mount has recruited in the past. How did you discover him and what did you like about his game?

We did some research. We kind of were looking at who was all-state, all-conference and all that. We started calling around to some of our friends, and one thing we were looking for was perimeter shooting. Everyone we talked to said the one thing he certainly can do is shoot the ball. And that was something we were looking for. So we went down that road. As we got to know him, I thought he’d fit in. He has played some point guard. The starting point guard on his team was a pretty good player, and he went down so Julian played about half the season, maybe more. From my perspective, having to put him in the position where he had to dribble and make decisions, combined with his shooting, was a good experience for down the road. I know he had a number of big visits. UAB, East Carolina, Old Dominion, I think, were interested. But the kid always ended up being the bridesmaid, not the bride. We were fortunate that he was still out there.

You took the job in May and then had to assemble a recruiting class from scratch. How did you make it all come together in a relatively short amount of time?

I’d like to tell some great stories of us doing a fabulous job, but you just do what you do. You’re always recruiting and sometimes there are good players out there late. When I was at Georgetown, we signed John Wallace in August. We convinced John to come as a walk-on at first. We eventually gave him a scholarship, but we got John to come in August and he started every game of his career and was the all-time leader in 3-point shooting in Georgetown history. He hit the shot that really keyed us to go to the Final Four against North Carolina in the Elite Eight. So there are guys out there. Some kids really kind of know what they want, and they’re willing and have the confidence that allows them to wait around. Other kids aren’t as confident and they do things fast. Sometimes you get lucky and someone’s still looking around. But at this point, who knows? Hopefully the player you get is a good player and it all pans up. But so far, we like them and their teammates speak very highly of them. There’s nothing really tricky about [putting together a class late]. You’ve got to beat the bushes and get out there.

How valuable was your time at Georgetown, and how will you utilize that experience at the Mount?

I learned a lot every step of the way. I’ve been fortunate to work for a number of different guys in a number of different situations. And there are many different lessons. To just generalize and pick one to throw out there, that doesn’t really seem appropriate. I will just draw on all the experience that I’ve had, whether it was at Siena, at Loyola Marymount or at Georgetown. They were different situations and different scenarios. The lessons I learned are appropriate for different times at the Mount. In many ways, the Mount is very different than Georgetown, but that doesn’t mean there are lessons that don’t apply. Hopefully those lessons in each of those situations can help me here.

Which of these three freshmen do you see making an immediate impact, or is it too early to tell?

Yeah, it’s really too early. There are needs for the roles that Castellanos and Norfleet fill a little more than the need that Evan fills. But really, everything is wide open. If you asked me who’s going to start right now, or who’s going to play right now, I’d be hard pressed to name two guys. Some of that’s how I like to coach each year, combined with the fact that you’ve got to let the guys earn it and prove it. They have an opportunity each offseason to go out and work really hard, be in the gym as much as possible. As a coach, you want to make sure they have that opportunity. I’d like to be able to play a lot of guys. Hopefully, everyone steps up and keeps our bar raised. But we can play a number of guys. It’s just too early to tell.

Overall, what are your expectations for your team this season?

My focus has always been – even as an assistant – that we’re just a little bit better tomorrow than we are today. And if we can be the most improved team -- certainly in our conference and maybe in the country, from the start of the year to the end of the year – if you can do that on a year-to-year basis, I think you end up putting yourself in a position to have a lot of success. I just talk about, ‘Can we be better tomorrow than we are today?’ Those are my expectations. After that, I expect us to win every game we play and that we take it one game at a time, whether it’s Duke or whoever. I expect us to approach that game the same way and expect us to win every game we play.

Posted by Matt Bracken at 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Matt Bracken

Matt Bracken was a lightly recruited football and tennis prospect out of East Lansing (Mich.) High School in 2001, but spurned all (nonexistent) scholarship offers to attend the University of Michigan. Matt graduated from UM in 2005, earned a master's degree in new media journalism from Northwestern University in 2006, and spent the first 11 months of his career as an online producer / videographer / blogger at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. He has worked at The Baltimore Sun since July 2007, where he currently serves as the deputy sports editor for digital.

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