By Joseph Staszewski
Justin Burrell is quickly making his way up the professional ranks overseas.
The former St. John’s University men’s basketball standout played his first season with a top-tier team with Cholet in the French ProA league. The 25-year-old Burrell excelled with Chalons-Reims in the French B league the previous season prior when he averaged 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Still, he was planning on signing with the Italian club Siena in that country’s ‘B’ league before fate brought him back to France.
A new contract from Cholet arrived as soon he made it to Italy for a workout with Siena last August and things moved quickly. The Italian team was unsure of a few guys on its roster and wanted to see if Burrell could help it fill a need.
He didn’t want to wait. The next day he signed with Cholet to head back to France and play at a higher level. Siena ended up folding its team after last season. The basketball gods looked out for him.
“It’s just one of those things that happens in basketball all the time in terms of contracts,” Burrell said. “The players know. You can be in a place and another contract comes. You can be sitting at home and a contract comes.”
The year brought some unfamiliar adversity for Burrell. He described the Italian league as the most competitive he has ever played in professionally. Any team could beat anyone on any given night. Cholet started the season 7-0 in league play, but finished 12-18 and out of the playoffs. Burrell averaged seven points and seven rebounds a game.
He had to adjust to not being on a winning team after posting a combined record of 54-32 in his first two professional seasons. Burrell was the MVP of the Japanese Professional League with the Yokohama B-Corsairs three years ago and led Chalons-Reim to the title game.
“That was my first losing season,” Burrell said of his year with Cholet. “It’s a different type of mindset you have to have with a losing team. You have to stay locked in and keep performing.”
His strong showing last season in France will keep him at the ‘A’ level next year. Burrell said he has signed with the Chiha Jets of Japan’s top league.
His busy schedule hasn’t stopped him from keeping up with the Red Storm. He helped lead them to the NCAA tournament and was the Big East Sixth Man of the Year his senior year. Burrell was upset St. John’s didn’t make it to the Big Dance last year, but they have to move on and get better.
“They have a lot of growing up to do over there, the players and coaches included,” Burrell said. “Disappointment yes, but I kind of don’t feel bad for them. They are adults now.”
He has grown up as well and his career continues to be on the rise. It is something Burrell always knew he was capable of. He just had to convince others how good he was.
“I always knew I could do it,” Burrell said. “I wasn’t proving it to myself.”