Guard BJ Burries, pictured wearing the turquoise jersey worn at every American Indian Recognition game, chose to play at MCC in part because of its American Indian Institute. (Photo by Dylan DeVlieger)

‘There’s that kid’: how a record-breaking basketball player came to MCC

No matter who you talk to about Mesa Community College basketball guard BJ Burries, the word most people choose to describe him is humble. 

Growing up on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Burries was always involved in sports, playing baseball, football and soccer. But his choice to stick with basketball had everything to do with what is extremely important to him: family.

 “I knew it ran in the family. My mom and dad both played college ball. My grandma was a state champ back in high school, and I think my uncle was too,” said Burries.

Burries had tremendous success at Globe High School. The season before his freshman year, the team had a record of 5-23. In his four years there Burries led the team to a combined record of 76-35. In 2019 Burries became Arizona’s high school basketball all time scoring leader, passing Mike Bibby and Corey Hawkins with 3,387 points.

Throughout that season, there was a tangible energy at every game Globe played as Burries inched closer to breaking the scoring record. But his main goal was to get the win for Globe and put them in a better position to contend in the playoffs.

“The start of my senior year, everyone was telling me, ‘Oh, you can break the record,’ and I wasn’t really focused on that,” Burries said. “I was just trying to win games and do what we have to in order to get the win.”

When he finally did break the record in January 2019, Burries did so in front of countless fans. 

“It was a blessing. My family came and supported … Seeing everyone come together as my family, it was a great experience,” said Burries.

After Burries capped off his historic high school career, he had the difficult choice of where to attend college. With no Division I offers, Burris originally planned to sign with Scottsdale Community College — until a visit to MCC made him completely turn on his decision.

There was tension in the air when Sam Stevens, women’s basketball assistant coach and American Indian Institute (AII) student advisor, heard Burries was visiting MCC.

“I remember the first day he came in here on his recruiting trip, the men’s coaches said, ‘We’re bringing BJ in,’ just to have our department out to support him,” said Stevens. “And then he decided to play here. Like, that was cool because you heard about him when he was growing up, and all of a sudden it’s like there’s that kid. He’s going to play at Mesa.”

In the short time Stevens has been able to work with Burries at MCC, he has made quite the impression on him.

“It’s exciting to see a kid like that be successful,” said Stevens, “He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever met. I’ve met a lot of good basketball kids, but particularly I’ve been super impressed with BJ.”

Burries loved the atmosphere on campus, greeted by the then head coach Sam Ballard and his son Jordan. He decided MCC is where he wanted to call home. A big part of why Burries chose MCC is the AII, which helped him adjust to college.. 

“Sam Stevens would always help me out with school and stuff if I was struggling. He would always be there,” said Burries.

Burries, being just 5-foot-11, doesn’t fit the physical build of a prototypical guard. But the southpaw knows how to play to his strengths no matter who is matched up against him. His style of play has worked out for him thus far at MCC this season, shooting nearly 50% from the floor.

“I can just jab, go to the middle, hit a little floater. They play up on me because they know I’m a shooter, and all I got to do is make a pump fake and get to the bucket,” Burries said.

Burries takes all his family’s advice to heart. When he was told education always comes first, he made sure to make the most of his opportunities at MCC. He has already obtained an associate degree and will be getting a second degree in general studies following the Spring 2022 semester.

When asked about which Division 1 basketball program players want to join, most answer with Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas or Kentucky. However, Burries doesn’t fall into that category, hoping to play for local schools like ASU or GCU in order to be able to play in front of his family.

When it comes to his play style, Burries tries to emulate the game of Isaiah Thomas who played for the Lakers, Suns and Celtics. Burries sees a lot of similarities in not only their physique but how they play the game.

 “He’s basically the same height as me and he’s a lefty and he’s crafty with it. He knows what to do with the ball; I try to base my game off that,” said Burries.

Burries, being the only returning player on the 2021-2022 squad, hopes to help the program continue the success they’ve achieved over the past decade.