Bradford Burgess’ goatee could use a trim. But the scissors and razor will have to wait.
Virginia Commonwealth’s versatile 6-foot-6, 225-pound guard/forward has a duty to fulfill as the team’s lone senior: passing along one of the traditions of last year’s Final Four group.
“At this time last year we were not getting our hair cut and not shaving,” Burgess said. “I kind of started that back up a little bit early.”
VCU (28-6), the 12th seed in the South Region, will make its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament in Burgess’ four years when it plays No. 5 Wichita State (27-5) in the second round Thursday in Portland, Ore.
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In some ways, this trip is more rewarding for Burgess, the only regular left from last year. After being a complementary player throughout his career, the first-team all-CAA pick has been the leader and centerpiece of the ninth-youngest team in the country.
“I definitely wanted to go out the right way my last year, making it to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “I just wanted to be doing the right thing and leading the guys in the right direction.”
The hometown guy from Midlothian has been more than the Rams could have imagined for an unselfish player who doesn’t seek the spotlight. He’s led with his voice as much as with performance while taking VCU to a school-record 25 regular-season wins and the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title.
Junior point guard Darius Theus, a backup last season who has emerged as another leader, remembers Burgess taking charge at a crucial point early in the season. After the Rams lost the first two games of the Charleston Classic and were 1-2, Burgess, visibly upset, spoke his mind in a long team meeting.
“It really bothered him,” Theus said. “I guess he felt like it didn’t really bother a few guys. From that moment, I think he just made sure his voice was heard. He let us know that we’re not going to let everybody be right about doubting us and that we weren’t going to be too good this season.
“The way he said it, it just hit us. It was very powerful.”
VCU went 27-4 thereafter. Burgess (13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds) continued to be a guiding force despite a midseason shooting slump.
“He’s just been our rock,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “A lot of things don’t show up in the stat sheets that Brad has been terrific about (like) great leadership, great talk.
“If you don’t talk as a team out there, you’re going to get beat. Minus Brad in November, we were one of the quietest teams in college basketball. The younger guys got better, but they still needed Brad to kind of hold it all together.
“He’s been everything for us. He’s one of the best players ever at VCU.”
Burgess is the third VCU player to score more than 1,600 points and grab more than 700 rebounds.
He has played more minutes (4,498) than anyone in VCU history and made more consecutive starts (144 and counting) than anyone in Division I history.
Still, he’s been more comfortable riding shotgun beside other stars at VCU. Being vocal isn’t really part of his personality.
“It is when it has to be,” he said. “I’m capable of leading guys in the right direction, moreso with my examples instead of with my voice.
“I wouldn’t say it was difficult. I just didn’t have to do it as frequently.… This year, I’m the only senior.”
There’s one more example to give.
“Whatever Bradford says, we’re going to do,” Theus said. “If he says we ain’t getting haircuts, we ain’t getting haircuts. He’s our leader.”