Sure, school is still a few weeks away, but David Burton likes getting a head start — with basketball, anyway.
He spends many afternoons working on jump shots in the school gymnasium. But it’s not just for recreation. The 6-foot-5 forward, of 22nd and Moore streets, wants to become a force in the Catholic League and catch the attention of Division I scouts in the process.
"I know I have to work hard and play every game like it’s my last," said the 17-year-old Burton, who would love to play college basketball for Saint Joseph’s University.
Although the player has two more seasons at Neumann, this could be the year that he nabs the interest of Division I coaches.
Burton enjoyed a sneak preview of the spotlight in this summer’s Bill Cosby Future League, which is part of the Sonny Hill League. The player won co-MVP and the best high-school prospect awards. His contributions helped his Interstate Realty team advance to the championship game with a 13-0 record. Burton’s squad rode its undefeated streak all the way to the championship game, which it lost.
Neumann coach Carl Arrigale is already impressed enough with the rising star to place him in a key scoring role.
"I am expecting a lot from him this year, and I am going to put pressure on him," the coach said. "I think he is ready for that."
Burton returns with a full season of varsity experience, which included scoring 10 points or more in five Catholic League games last season. His best performance was a team-high 17-point effort against West Catholic. Still, the coach considered last season an adjustment period for Burton.
"If he wasn’t so raw, he probably would’ve played more," Arrigale said.
The athlete scored three points in the Pirates’ season-ending semifinal game against Cardinal Dougherty. Neumann had hoped to achieve a rare championship three-peat, but Burton said he took something away from the disappointment.
"You can’t go out there playing scared," he said. "You have to go out there wanting to win."
Neumann basketball players are extremely familiar with winning. The Pirates have advanced to at least the Catholic League semifinals in each of the last four seasons. Burton previously played basketball at Barratt Middle School, where the games were much lower stakes. By contrast, Neumann players have to be ready to work and study, the player said.
Many make the commitment of playing basketball over the summer. The Sonny Hill League provides an opportunity for some of the city’s best high-school talent to compete in an organized setting. Burton also enjoys playing senior teammate Richard "Tabby" Cunningham in friendly one-on-one games.
The player has spent some of his summer in front of the TV, watching the shocking reports that his favorite NBA star, Kobe Bryant, had been charged with sexual assault.
"I don’t think he did it," Burton said. "I still look up to him."
The player is now focusing on his own future, which — if he plays to his full potential — could be wide open.
Burton is happy to be coming off a good season, but he’s not counting that scholarship money quite yet.
"I can’t play like I know I am going to a Division I school," he said.
For now, the top priority is helping the Pirates regain their championship form. Burton credits Arrigale and assistant coach John Masco for helping him develop as a varsity player. The two coaches will continue to help mold Burton into a top college prospect. Summer league MVP honors could be just the start of much bigger things.
"Without a doubt, he could be a high-level Division I player," Arrigale said. "He has the size, the strength, he really improved his jump shot and has a real knack for scoring."