CINCINNATI -- Basketball has come nearly full circle for former Xavier standout Stanley Burrell, who helped the Musketeers to an Elite Eight run in 2008 before playing professionally overseas for nearly a decade.
Now he’s about to be inducted into Xavier’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Alongside women’s basketball All-Americans Amber Harris and Ta’Shia Phillips, baseball’s all-time winningest pitcher Louis Witte and broadcaster Andy MacWilliams, Burrell will be honored Friday at a dinner at Cintas Center. The group also will be recognized at Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. men’s basketball game against St. John’s.
Burrell’s long list of collegiate basketball accolades includes 93 career wins, including a school record 30 victories in the Atlantic 10, and 2008 A-10 defensive player of the year honors. He ranks 13th on Xavier’s all-time scoring list with 1,612 points.
Burrell, 32, last played in Poland but now lives in Holland. The guard recently passed on a contract to play in Lithuania in order to spend time with his 3-year-old son, Jayden.
Burrell recently talked to WCPO.com about life after college and what the future holds.
Which countries have you played in throughout your career, and do you have a favorite?
SB: My career has moved me all over Europe and Asia. Locations have included Serbia, Belgium, Poland, Germany, Turkey, Israel, Japan, Russia, Cyprus, and Hungary.
My favorite was Israel, surprisingly. I remember when I first received that contract offer. I said to myself, ‘No way am I going there and taking my family there.’ But my agent assured me I would love it, and he was right. It was amazing. Beautiful beaches, great weather, nice mansions, Lamborghinis, Ferraris everywhere, people speaking English and amazing food. It was perfect. Way different than what CNN and other media outlets portray it. They mostly only show the violence and war areas of Israel but in reality it’s such a beautiful country. I loved living there. I lived three minutes walking distance from the beach one season. The next season there I lived in the mountains. It was so nice. My family loved it, too.
Tokyo was a close second -- incredibly nice people, beautiful sites and zero violence. The food was a little strange -- and raw! -- but other than that it was perfect.
You started your college career as an offensive-minded player and then made defense your mission. Why did you make that switch, and how has it served you professionally?
SB: Making that switch was very important, not just for myself but for the overall good of my teams at Xavier. There was Romain Sato and then Justin Cage as the lockdown defenders. With them being gone, we needed somebody that would take on that role and responsibility. After talks with Coach (Sean) Miller, I was convinced that it would be me. And so I took it, and I took it with pride.
I loved the challenge of seeing a top player in front of me and trying my best to slow him down or make him earn every bucket that night. It helped our team explode and have an amazing season, so it was all worth it.
As for the pros, that defensive-minded mentality kind of backfired on me early in my career. That XU team mentality backfired too. I was so team-oriented that I wasn't paying full attention to myself and what I needed to show and prove as an individual. My defense was still great, but my scoring was down my first season as a pro. I needed to adjust or my career wasn’t going to last long. There was no longer a need of 100 percent commitment to just the team.
At the pro level and in this business you need to put up numbers as well. So I adjusted my mindset that summer after my rookie season. My second season I averaged double figures while also leading the Belgian league in assists per game. The following year I was a Top 5 scorer and assists guy in the Polish league. The next year I just barely missed the scoring title in the German league. I finished second in scoring and fourth in assists.
So initially the defensive thing from XU was not really helping me as a pro but thankfully I was able to adjust and bring back my aggressive offensive mentality and have a career that has lasted almost a decade.
What’s the best advice you ever received from Sean Miller?
SB: Trust the process. He was right. None of these things for me has happened overnight. At times, things looked rough, but I was able to just stick with them and keep pushing through, while holding onto that line from Coach Miller throughout the years. In good times and bad times, I kept believing things would eventually work out and they have.
Favorite memory as a Xavier basketball player?
SB: My senior season, without hesitation. Statistically it was not my best season at Xavier, but my impact and footprint were all over that team. I was able to step away from just scoring and really show other areas of my game -- show other ways to help a team win. Seeing the success we had as a team while having such a big role in it felt amazing.
I literally would go into the game with my mind made up, I was going to do anything and everything on the court to help my team win. It didn't have to be 20 points. It could be defense on the best player. It could be diving on the floor for a loose ball. It could throwing a lob to Derrick Brown. It could be inspiring Jason Love to believe in himself more. It could be bringing that passion and emotion for our crowd that would give our entire team a boost of energy.
My mind was made up. That was my role, and that was what my team needed from me. And in the end, it helped us get to an Elite Eight.
What does it mean to you to be a Xavier Athletics Hall of Fame inductee?
SB: It means a lot to me, just knowing how much I poured into my college career - not just what you all could see come game time, but the other stuff behind the scenes that went into it. So after four years of giving blood, sweat, and tears on the court for XU, to be honored this way feels amazing. To know they appreciated what I did during my time there makes me feel good. Makes me happy.
I never thought about being in the Hall of Fame. That was never even a goal of mine. I’ve already received so much from this university, so this honor is just icing on the cake for me, and I’m very thankful for it. Knowing that even after I’m gone from this world, my little boy Jayden can one day go there and see his dad in the Hall of Fame forever is truly remarkable.
Do you cross paths with other Xavier alums overseas?
SB: Yes, I have crossed paths with a lot of the guys from playing in the same league. Josh Duncan, Justin Cage, B.J. Raymond and Jason Love all played in the Belgian league. I played against Derrick Brown two years ago in Belarus when his Russian team came to play us.
How has being a father changed your life?
SB: In a life full of so many amazing blessings, Jayden has been the best. He’s so smart, so funny, and so full of life. He lights me up every day and motivates me to be the best I can be.
He watches everything I do, and so I strive to set the best example for him. I couldn’t have asked for a better kid. He is me in so many ways.
He has also handled this lifestyle so well. We’ve been all over the world together. He was born in Turkey and has probably been to over 12 different countries in just 3 years. He loves to travel. He does very well with it and I believe he has enjoyed all the love he has received around the world from fans. Everywhere we go they have adored him, and that makes me feel good.
His mom, Aldina Huseinovic, is a very special woman. She is my best friend. She is also such an amazing mother to him. She puts his needs first through everything, and I fully respect her for that. He is really blessed to have a mother like her. She has been a huge factor in helping me be a great dad. I travel so much with basketball and she has sacrificed some things for herself in order to bring Jayden to me. I'll always be appreciative of her for that.
What would you tell current Xavier players about life after college hoops?
SB: Just to fully understand that the game will give back to you what you give it. If you work hard, have faith in the process, and the determination to push through adversity, this game can be extremely rewarding. If you cut corners and disrespect the game, then it’ll show and give back to you in a negative way. I’ve experienced both sides of that. The game can also open other lanes for you and your family. But you have to earn it. You have to be ready to show and prove your worth. At the pro level, everything is so cutthroat. With so much money involved, the business is full of shady people. You have to do your homework and make sound decisions as you move along.
How long do you think you will continue playing basketball professionally? What plans do you have beyond that?
SB: I’m not exactly sure how much longer I want to play ball. Physically, I feel great. I feel like I could play another three or four years at a high level. But having Jayden is the game-changer now. He’s my happiness. He’s what's most important to me. I take being his father very seriously because I never had a father growing up and I remember just how awful that felt. He’ll never experience that. Ever.
Playing basketball for a living keeps me away from him for such long stretches of time, almost two to three months at a time. I’m tired of that. I don’t like it at all. So now I’m thinking of making a change this year. I’m thinking of stepping away for good.
I always wanted to get into coaching after my playing career. I feel I have such great experience from playing for so long and for so many great coaches all over Europe and Asia. My experience could be really valuable to the players. I’ve just about seen it all in these 10 years and I’d love to help, teach, and guide upcoming players towards success.
I wish XU had an open spot on their bench -- I’d gladly sign up tomorrow to be an assistant coach! That would be a dream come true. Play at XU, have a Hall of Fame career there, play professionally for a decade and then return to my alma mater to coach. Couldn’t write it any better.