Burton back in Milwaukee and better than ever
By JAY COHEN
AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE — Deonte Burton says his mother is with him all the time. He wears pink socks or shoes for breast cancer awareness when he plays for Iowa State. He says a prayer to ask her for strength before he takes the court.
This week, they are home.
The NCAA Tournament brings Burton back to his hometown of Milwaukee for the Cyclones’ first-round game against No. 12 seed Nevada on Thursday night at the Bradley Center, a place he knows quite well. Burton transferred from Marquette to Iowa State after his mother Barbara died three years ago.
“It’s really good because it shows the city how much I’ve grown since the last time they see me play here,” Burton said, “so it means a lot.”
Burton is one of three Milwaukee natives on the Cyclones, continuing a successful pipeline for the school. Darrell Bowie, a transfer from Northern Illinois, and Donovan Jackson also are former Milwaukee prep stars. Diante Garrett scored 1,364 points during his Iowa State career from 2008-11, and Jameel McKay and Korie Lucious also had success at the school.
T.J. Otzelberger, a Milwaukee native who played his college ball at Wisconsin-Whitewater, had a key role in recruiting the city during his two separate stints as an Iowa State assistant before leaving last April for the head coaching job at South Dakota State.
But second-year Iowa State coach Steve Prohm is still paying close attention, with another one of Milwaukee’s top prep players set to join the program next season.
“The city has been very good for us recruiting-wise,” Prohm said. “Hopefully, it’s very good for us the next couple days playing-wise as well. It’s great to be in a location where their families can come and our fans can come.”
Bowie said the phones for the current Milwaukee trio started going crazy right after the brackets were unveiled Sunday.
“After a while it sunk in and it just felt good to come back home, and … let kids know that there’s hope in this city,” he said, “and let them know that we represent a positive image and it’s not just for us, but it’s also for kids in the city also to let them know there’s better things out there than just being around violence and everything that’s been going on.”
Burton was a touted recruit coming out of Vincent High, and opted to stay in the city to play for Buzz Williams at Marquette. He made the Big East All-Rookie team as a freshman, but everything changed when his mother died right before the start of his sophomore season.
He played eight more games for the Golden Eagles before deciding to transfer.
“I was in a bad space when it comes to basketball after my mother passed because I didn’t want to play basketball anymore,” said Burton, who set up for Iowa State’s practice in the same locker he had at Marquette. “Getting away from the city helped me a lot.”
Burton said it took him about six months to find his love for basketball again. He started playing for the Cyclones in December 2015 and averaged 9.7 and 3.9 rebounds in 26 games, becoming the unanimous winner for Big 12 newcomer of the year. He has been even better this season, averaging 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds.
“It was a long process. I just had to heal and accept the fact that my mother died,” Burton said.
But Burton said he carries his mother’s memory with him wherever he goes.
“She stays with me a lot,” he said. “I make a lot of my decisions off what she would think of the decision, so she influences a lot of my decisions still to this day.”
Burton played a key role in Iowa State’s run to the Big 12 Tournament title, scoring 16 points in the Cyclones’ 80-74 victory against West Virginia in the final. Jackson also is playing well heading into the NCAA Tournament, shooting 23 for 39 from 3-point range in his past 14 games, and Bowie averaged nine points on 11-for-16 shooting in the conference tourney.
The Cyclones’ Milwaukee roots have helped each player deliver on the court.
“We’re close, and we help each other when we might be homesick,” Burton said. “We talk to each other and help each other that way.”