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Monday, December 24, 2012
Catching up with Justin Burrell

By Ian Begley

If you asked former St. John's star Justin Burrell about his basketball future a few years ago, he would have told you it was NBA or bust.

But spending time overseas can change a man's perspective.

That's exactly what happened to Burrell, the burly 6-8 forward who helped St. John's return to prominence two seasons ago and was named 2011 Big East Sixth Man of the Year.

Justin Burrell
Justin Burrell helped St. John's reach the NCAA tournament during his senior season.
After college, Burrell played in Japan and France, suiting up most recently with Chalons-Reims this season.

He says his experience abroad has broadened his horizons and helped him realize that he can carve out a life playing overseas.

"For me, I would have said it was NBA or bust before coming out of college," Burrell said in a phone interview earlier this month. "But now that I'm out here, I realize there is an opportunity to make a great living. I just want to play at the highest level I can, and make enough money to support my family."

Last year, in his first season playing professionally, Burrell was named the MVP of the Basketball Japan League after averaging 18.7 points and 10 rebounds for the Yokohama B-Corsairs.

This season, in France, his numbers have dipped a bit (12.6 points, 6.2 rebounds). But he's broadened his skill set for Chalons-Reims, playing more of a pure center than the power forward position he's used to.

"I basically do the dirty work," he said. "I used my skill set to benefit the team."

He's also enjoying life off the court, seeing the sights in France and learning about another culture.

"To see all this stuff and step on the court and know that I'm here because of basketball, it's a humbling experience," he said.

Burrell still harbors goals of playing in the NBA. But he no longer obsesses over it.

He was raised in what he describes as a "tough" neighborhood in the Bronx. There were times growing up when he didn't think he'd live beyond the age of 18, he says. He certainly didn't have any incentive to plan for his future.

But that's all changed.

"Now, I'm making plans," Burrell said. "I'm trying to set out a map for the future. I could see myself living here forever."