Burke begins transition to assistant
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team is Bob Burke's paradise found, even if he is somewhat lost in paradise away from the court right now.
Burke started his new job as assistant basketball coach for the Rainbow Warriors on Thursday.
"The whole timing of this job is really good," Burke said. "I felt like it was time for a change at this point and time of my career."
Burke spent the past 22 seasons as head coach at Chowan College, a NCAA Division III program in Murfreesboro, N.C. He compiled a career record of 419-217 there.
"My record speaks for itself," he said. "But I'm not about being recognized or going for individual glory. I'm absolutely comfortable with being an assistant on this staff."
Burke, 56, is an old acquaintance of UH head coach Riley Wallace.
"It was simply a chance to become part of a great Division I program," Burke said. "When a respected coach like Riley calls and asks if you're interested in a job, that's an ultimate compliment."
Wallace said a key to the hiring was Burke's knowledge of the flex-motion offense used successfully by the 'Bows in recent years.
Burke, who once spent nine consecutive summers learning basketball strategy from John Wooden, said he immediately recognized some of the intricacies of the UH offense while studying film last week.
"It's obviously thrown some opponents off in the last few years," Burke said. "So it's not my job to change it. I just want to spruce it up, keep it clean, and keep it running smooth."
As the "new guy" on the staff, Burke said he also realizes the pressure to help continue UH's winning ways. The 'Bows have been to the last two NCAA Tournaments, and finished 27-6 last season, the best record in school history.
"I don't want to be the one to screw it up," he said with a laugh.
Burke will also take on some recruiting responsibilities left by Scott Rigot, who departed UH for an assistant's position at Kentucky.
"I may have to go to Europe, where I've never been," Burke said. "I take that as a challenge. It's something new and exciting and one of the reasons why I wanted this job."
If Burke wants to recruit in the area of his former job, he may have to compete with his son, Rob, who is an assistant coach at Campbell, an NCAA-I program in Bules Creek, N.C.
In any case, Burke is hoping his experience and network of contacts in the Eastern United States can help UH. On his first day at UH, Burke received a congratulatory postcard from North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty.
"I don't want to lose my identity as the Chowan coach," he said. "Because I think that can help the University of Hawai'i."
The biggest adjustment for Burke might be the transition from head coach to assistant. An Irish-Catholic raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Burke said he was an "animated guy on the bench" at Chowan.
"It's not the place for an assistant to be that way, so I'll be a little more laid-back here," he said.
Burke and his wife of 33 years, Jane, had never been to Hawai'i before flying here for an interview with Wallace last month.
"I was raised in New York, but I've spent the last 35 or so years in the Carolinas," he said. "This is a big change, but it's beautiful here. Who wouldn't want a chance to live in Hawai'i?"
For now, every day in Hawai'i is a learning experience for Burke. This week, he will meet many of the UH players for the first time (classes start tomorrow).
He is also hoping to visit several of O'ahu's scenic spots that is, once he can pronounce the names.
"When I mentioned 'Kaylua' Beach, everybody gave me a funny look," he said. "I finally figured out it was Kailua. I'm still getting my K's and I's and A's straight."