SALEM — The orange mohawk is beginning to fade but former Oregon State men’s basketball standout Joe Burton hopes his game is only warming up.
Hoops fans overseas or north of the border may soon be catching a glimpse of the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Burton as he moves bodies around inside and crashes the boards.
“I’m hopefully going to go overseas and play,” he said. “By September, I hope to go over for six months or however long it takes.”
Burton said his agent has talked to leagues in Finland, Japan, Belgium, Sweden and most recently, Canada.
Since playing his final game for the Beavers, Burton has been suiting up for the Salem Sabres of the International Basketball League. That experience will conclude this week with the league’s season-ending single-elimination playoff tournament that runs Wednesday through Friday.
“He’s a big presence inside with his size and skill set,” Sabres coach Willie Freeman said about Burton. “He’s a great kid, a great attitude and loves the game. He’s just trying to get better and start his pro career.”
Burton has good numbers with averages of 13.8 points and a league-leading 15.3 rebounds per game heading into Friday’s games. From the field, he’s hitting 55.7 percent of his shots.
The IBL, now in its ninth season, touts itself as a place where players can refine their skills before taking up residence on a foreign team or right here at home in the NBA Development League.
Several former OSU players have competed in the IBL, including Daniel Deane who last suited up for the Beavers in the 2011 season and is Burton’s teammate at Salem.
David Lucas, who played at OSU from 2001-05 and is the son of NBA great Maurice Lucas, has been one of the IBL’s top players in recent years with Portland.
“It’s faster, you actually have to throw the shot up quick,” Burton said about playing in the league. “You can’t really run a play. ... The league’s been very good, it’s been fun. I’m just getting my feet wet for professional basketball so it’s been good.”
As far as what he needs to work on to excel at the next level, Burton does have a few things in mind.
“Mostly, I focus on my mid-range shot, 15-footer,” he said. “And also conditioning, going up and down the floor.”
The latter subject is something Freeman brought up.
“One thing he has to do a better job of is be in shape,” Freeman said. “I play him, and he can almost play a whole game, but it’s the level he’s playing at.”
With the IBL’s pace, which includes 12-minute quarters, staying in top shape is important.
“It’s actually better for us because you have games and practices so often, so you stay in shape,” said Burton, who continues to live in Corvallis. “For me, I just have to watch what I eat and stuff. I love food.”
Deane also averages a double-double for the Sabres, led by his 18.2 points per game.
“He’s another big guy who’s solid and very athletic,” Freeman said. “Sometimes he forces, but at this level, sometimes you have to have guys who force it.”
The Sabres roster also includes Dan Feest, who attended classes at OSU but never played on the basketball team. He’s averaging 9.2 points per game.
“On our team, when you’re talking about point guards, I think he’s as close to an actual point guard,” Freeman said. “I think he wants to run the show and get guys set up in their offensive set.”
The IBL features high-scoring games and could be easily called a guard-oriented league. When asked if the rules are different that leads to teams routinely scoring 100-plus points, Freeman chuckled and said, “Lack of defense” and then after pausing added, “and the 22-second shot clock, so you’ve got to get it up a little bit faster.”
With all of those shots put up, the rebounding numbers may seem inflated. But in that department, Burton and Deane are both averaging in double figures.
“Between him and Daniel Deane, there are not many rebounds left between the guards,” Freeman said.
As for Burton, he’s hoping to continue competing in the sport he loves for as long as possible. Freeman believes he can be a force on the basketball court.
“With his skill level, his size, he has a soft touch and can shoot the ball a little bit. And he passes phenomenally for a big man,” Freeman said. “If he wants to take his game to that level, I think he can.”