Burrell boys coach encouraged by breakthrough season

Monday, March 21, 2022 | 9:48 AM

Burrell boys basketball’s impressive turnaround has surprised a lot of people around the WPIAL.

You can include the program’s head coach, Mike Fantuzzo, in that group.

“I can’t say I totally expected to make the state tournament,” said Fantuzzo, in his third season with the Bucs. “But I know that was a really good win for our program. It had been about 10 years.”

The Bucs went 14-10, with a 9-3 mark in Section 1-4A.

Burrell beat Elizabeth Forward, 63-42, in the WPIAL first round, earning the program’s first playoff win since 2013. The Bucs lost to Montour, 70-50, in the quarterfinals, but qualified for the PIAA tournament, eventually falling to Fairview, 61-39, in the opening round.

Just two years ago, in Fantuzzo’s first season, Burrell went 1-20.

“It’s the kids and the work they put in in the offseason,” Fantuzzo said. “Typically a Burrell team doesn’t get just basketball players. They’re normally playing different sports. A big portion of our main group was mostly basketball (players).”

Last season, Burrell began to progress, fishing 9-10 and qualifying for the playoffs. That seemed to set the table.

“We definitely had much higher expectations (this year),” Fantuzzo said, crediting a rigorous summer basketball schedule, as well. “We had a good group, a good core coming back. We started off a little bit rough, going 1-3, but we thought we played some really good teams and it helped us get ready for the season.”

“I don’t know if I thought we’d go 9-3 in the section. That kind of went above my expectations. I felt like we had a pretty tough section, and it showed in the WPIAL playoffs.”

All four section playoff qualifiers — North Catholic, Deer Lakes, Freeport and Burrell — advanced out of the Class 4A first round.

Along the way, Fantuzzo saw his team’s defense emerge and become the strength of the team.

“We got after it defensively, and that helped us against Deer Lakes, Freeport and Keystone Oaks,” he said. “And then, offensively, we had five guys on the court who could all shoot from the outside.”

The team’s best shooter, and player for that matter, was Brandon Coury, a senior who scored 20.9 points per game in the regular season.

“He stepped up with his leadership,” Fantuzzo said. “He put the team on his back. When we needed a basket, he was always there to come through. He became a lot more dangerous this year because he was really strong getting to the hoop. And he got confidence in his outside shot this year.”

Coury has gotten some interest from Division III schools, according to Fantuzzo.

He is one of five seniors who will need to be replaced. But the cupboard isn’t bare. Two freshmen, Tucker Bitar and Ryan Croushore, played solid minutes, as did sophomore Esau King-Buchak, a 6-foot-3 forward Fantuzzo believes is full of potential.

“Those other kids have to step up,” Fantuzzo said. “They have to continue to work on their skill. They don’t have those seniors to look to to make those big shots. It’s on them now.”

But the foundation has been laid. And Fantuzzo made sure his departing players got an appreciation for what they helped establish.

“I told them that they put Burrell basketball back on the radar,” he said. “Teams are starting to respect the program again and they knew that, when Burrell comes to play, that they’re going to be in for a fight.”


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