Steve Burtt finally joins father among Iona champions

Updated: March 7, 2006, 5:23 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - Iona guard Steve Burtt was running circles around the court, zigzagging through the maze of cheering Gaels fans, when he finally spotted his father standing on the sideline near the press table.

Taking three giant steps, Burtt vaulted into his father's waiting arms and smothered him with a bear hug. This is what victory felt like, and it was something the son could finally share with his father, Steve Burtt Sr., who in 1982 and 1984 led Iona to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championships.

"It was a feeling I've never felt before," Steve Burtt Jr. said Monday after scoring 28 points in an 80-61 win over St. Peter's to clinch for Iona its seventh MAAC title and eighth NCAA tournament berth.

"I owe it all to him," he said. "My dad's been there for me since birth, teaching me this game, teaching me the right way to play and always showing me that you might not have the easy road, you might have to take the hard way."

The younger Burtt's 2,011 career points at Iona are second only to his father's 2,534, and their 4,545 combined points top all NCAA father-son scoring combos.

But until Monday, Burtt Jr. was missing one thing his father had at Iona: a MAAC title.

"This is what I wanted more than the points, more than the accolades, more than the records," said the younger Burtt, a senior. "I feel my career wouldn't have been a success if we didn't get this championship, and we got it."

Many wondered whether it would ever happen for this group of Gaels players, who in the past three seasons always found a way to come up short. In past years, players bickered over shot selection and playing time, and questioned whether Burtt was too involved in the offense. And Burtt blamed himself for what happened in last year's tournament semifinal, when he scored 28 points but lost the ball on a key possession in the final seconds of a 69-66 loss to eventual champion Niagara.

Questions were raised again this year, when the team squandered a chance at winning the regular-season title by losing its last two games. Even coach Jeff Ruland acknowledged this past weekend that he worried whether his team could string together three solid tournament games.

Burtt and the Gaels responded, outscoring their opponents by a combined 260-199 margin, starting with an 80-54 win over Niagara in the quarterfinals. Burtt finished with 83 points - including 12-of-23 on 3-point shots - and was named the tournament's MVP.

"It feels like history repeating itself," Burtt said, noting his father also earned the MVP honor in 1984.

Dad couldn't have been prouder.

"He was a leader before, but he had to learn how to lead," Burtt Sr. said. "I'm just proud of him."

The Gaels (23-7) now prepare for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2001. And besides Burtt, this year's group is rounded out by hot-shooting swingman Ricky Soliver, power forward Kiril Wachsmann and dependable guard Marvin McCullough.

Also on the team is sophomore forward Gary Springer, who like Burtt followed in his father's footsteps by winning a MAAC title at Iona. Gary Springer Sr. was a teammate of Burtt Sr. in 1982 and 1984.

"I'm so happy for these guys," said Ruland, who won his third MAAC title in an eight-year tenure. "I love all my players but this is special with all the stuff we've been involved with over the last couple of years. ... They're leaving a banner behind."

"It's an incredible feeling," the younger Burtt said. "I've grown a lot this year and tonight it really showed. It means the world. It's four years together. We've been to the bottom, and now we're on top."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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