The Washington Times - March 31, 2009, 08:53PM

Once basketball season is over, I sort of like to lean back on a Sunday afternoon for a wonderfully mindless activity I like to call “listening to a NASCAR race.”

This is not to say the race itself is mindless. It’s actually pretty interesting, and I do think it is remarkable that auto racing on the radio is as compelling as it is. Realistically, there’s no logical reason for that to be the case, so that speaks very well of the broadcasters behind the endeavor.


As for the TV side of things, well, there tends to be repetition. A lot of it. You’ll hear early every week about some guy who hasn’t won in five years driving for some team that hasn’t won a race in 10 years and how this feels like it could be the week he finally takes the checkers.

Four hours and eight missed restarts due to long-running commercials later, that guy comes home in 28th, three laps off the pace thanks to some bad luck in turn two and on pit road.

Jerome Burney reminds me of that guy.

Every year, Burney has a chance to be a part of Maryland’s rotation. Every year, people are mentioning him as someone who could shake off a little rough patch and prove a valuable piece of the puzzle as the Terrapins chase an NCAA tournament. Overall, the tone is positive, because the genial Georgian is a pretty upbeat and friendly guy and people tend to like seeing upbeat and friendly people do well.

Then, the wheels fall off the wagon along the way in some bizarre fashion.

In Burney’s first season, he redshirted after preseason injuries set him back.

In his second season, he fell into a vortex where time has no meaning once conference play started, and it spat him out in late February. He had a couple decent games, a couple less-than-stellar games, and figured to be a factor as a redshirt sophomore.

Ah, but no one was counting on the return of injuries. Foot injuries limited Burney to just nine games (two after Dec. 7), that proclivity for blocked shots, dunks and so-so defense was parked in street clothes and a walking boot and Burney wound up averaging 0.9 points and 1.9 rebounds.

Instead, Burney was always good to crack a joke with or notice something oddly fascinating (like the springs in his crutches after he went down for the season for good). But production? There weren’t huge advances there.

I scoured the ACC Basketball Stat Book (handed out at the 2008 ACC tournament) to come up with some similar players in Maryland history to Burney. Now, these comparisons are far from perfect, and I don’t have the statistical know-how to pull off basketball similarity scores (anyone with that know-how is free to contact me). But here’s the three seasons I came up with:

Player Min. FG FT Reb. Ast. Stl. Blk. Points
A 68 4-15 0-4 17 2 0 6 8
B 90 6-17 13-22 31 4 6 2 25
C 94 3-21 1-4 30 1 2 2 7

Might as well just come out and say that A is Burney’s redshirt sophomore season.

B is a reflection of a little wishful thinking and a bit of a stretch; it’s Herman Veal‘s freshman season.

Line C is extremely comparable, and it’s LaRon Cephas‘ freshman season.

The trouble with these comparisons is you’re looking at Burney halfway through his eligibility and comparing him to a guy who still has an extra year to get better. And it turns out they’re similar, in part because of the time Burney lost to injury.

To say Cephas and Burney are the same is unfair, though they are tied together by the reality they’re probably the most unlucky guys to play for the Terps in the last decade. (Sadly, poor fortune didn’t end with basketball injuries for Cephas; the well-liked and well-respected member of the 2001 Final Four team died two years ago of an enlarged heart).

Back to Burney: Not much about the guy has changed. He’s still a defense-first big man who, if healthy, could probably play 10-15 solid minutes a night his last two seasons. His athleticism is always going to make people wonder just how good he could be if he wasn’t hampered with foot problems, and there’s always going to be a “wow” dunk or two he can manage even in limited time.

Just as importantly, Maryland can be certain he won’t be a knucklehead and do something outlandish, although there’s no question “Rome” doesn’t always see the world the same way other folks do. That’s a good thing.

All that said, Burney’s probably put together a season’s worth of production in three years in the program. He won’t resume basketball activities for another month or so —- well after pickup games start up again at Comcast Center —- as he rehabs, and the addition of Jordan Williams and James Padgett will probably make minutes a bit more scarce next season.

Burney’s due for a break that doesn’t involve a fracture in his foot. So Maryland will head into next season, and Burney will look like a possible option inside. If he can stay healthy, he just might emerge in the Terps’ rotation in the fall.

And if not, you’ll read a very, very similar season in review on this blog around this time next year.

—- Patrick Stevens