In September of 2016, Jamarius Burton was starting to play fall basketball with his new teammates at Independence High.
He was coming off a successful travel season with Team Loaded N.C., the same adidas-branded travel program that had produced NBA players Dennis Smith and Bam Adebayo. Burton had transferred from crosstown Berry High, where he had been all-conference as a sophomore, and was joining a serious state title contender at Independence.
But this pain is his knee wouldn’t go away. It had started in the summer, and he worked his way through it. It came back in the fall and Burton’s father suggested he go to the doctor.
Turns out that sometime, somewhere, he’d torn his ACL.
Burton had surgery that November and missed his junior season – and the next summer, which is vital for potential college recruits.
“It was pretty tough,” said Burton, who will lead the Patriots into Tuesday’s state quarterfinal home against Olympic. “I saw kids getting scholarship offers who I had just played with a year ago. I won’t lie. It was hard.”
What helped him get through it was listening to motivational speakers, a habit he had he’d picked up a few years before. Burton had two favorites, Les Brown and Eric Thomas. He memorized one of Brown’s quotes and it has stuck with him, through rehab and a successful comeback to high school basketball this season:
“In life, there are God-ordained opportunities brilliantly disguised as problems.”
Burton’s cousin, New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Andrus Peat, helped line up surgery with renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. Burton had the operation in Florida, and he stayed a few days to start his rehab. Then he came back to Charlotte, just before his junior season would’ve begun, and dived into making himself better.
He had twice-a-week workouts in a rehab center and worked with Independence trainers at least two other days. Yes, it hurt to watch his teammates play so well and not be able to help – Independence finished 22-7 and lost to eventual 4A state champ Southwest Guilford 67-64 in the second round of the 2017 playoffs – but every time he would think about getting down, Burton would lean on Les Brown’s quote.
“I stuck with that quote and I was patient,” Burton said. “I knew I would come back stronger. During the trials and tribulations, you have an opportunity to come back better. I saw Dennis Smith and researched him and other people who came back (from knee surgery) better. I said it’s possible.”
Burton was cleared to play last June. By the fall, he was on the court with the Patriots for the preseason fall league. He said he was very nervous before the first game, but after he tested his leg for a half, he said he was fine.
And he’s putting together the senior season he’d hoped for.
A 6-foot-5 senior point guard, Burton is averaging 16.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals. He had 33 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals in Saturday’s N.C. 4A third-round win over Ardrey Kell, and he has led the Patriots to within two victories of their first state championship appearance since 1997.
Current Patriots coach Preston Davis was a 6-foot-8 center on the Independence 1997 state champion. Davis said Burton has impressed him with his determination to return to the court.
“He’s been focused,” Davis said, “and he’s stayed dedicated. He never lost confidence in his abilities or his work ethic and it’s showing now. I think, honestly, the other kids on the team have seen that and it’s helped them buy in to see how much he wants it and how hard he works.”
Burton has picked up offers from nine schools since December, including Alabama-Birmingham, George Mason and Temple. Schools such as Butler and Providence are beginning to show interest.
“He’s the top unsigned senior in the (2018) North Carolina class,” said N.C. recruiting analyst Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoop Report. Lewis ranks Burton as the state’s No. 15 senior. “I can’t believe how well he’s come back. Jamarius is so strong. He’s got such strength and length. His game just translates well. He’ll be one of those guys who goes to college and has a better college career than high school career.”
Burton said he plans to take his official visits after the season but isn’t sure when he’ll pick a college or sign.
For now, he’s just focused on one thing – winning a championship.
“Right now,” he said, “I’m just going out there each night and doing what my team needs. Some nights, I might not score a lot, but I’ll get 14 assists. Whatever we need, I’m willing to do.”