Former UMass guard Ross Burns has found his basketball niche

  • Ross Burns, left, shown coaching with Fordham 10 years ago, left college coaching so he could spend more time teaching on the court. COURTESY FORDHAM ATHLETICS

  • Ross Burns, center, shown with Fordham 10 years ago, spent seven seasons as a Division I coach before joining Pro Hoops NYC. COURTESY FORDHAM ATHLETICS

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 6/21/2016 9:01:59 PM

It’s easy to miss the familiar face that appears for just a few moments on Brandon Ingram’s pre-draft video blog on The Players Tribune.

But there, behind Ingram, an almost certain top-two pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, is Ross Burns feeding him the ball.

Burns, a Greenfield native and former walk-on player at UMass, is on the video for Jamal Murray, another projected high lottery pick, too.

By the time the names stop being called at the draft, the number of players in the NBA whom Burns has tutored figures to take a good-sized jump.

Burns is the director of Pro Hoops NYC, a New York-based business that trains basketball players at a variety of levels. Their highest-profile work comes between early April and now as they prepare players for the draft.

Burns was an outstanding player at Greenfield High School and Cushing Academy before walking on at UMass as a freshman for the 1995-96 season.

He didn’t play much in his college career, but his dedication to the game and getting better always stood out to his coaches. Then Minuteman coach Bruiser Flint even predicted Burns would someday coach. He turned out to be right.

A year after graduating Burns broke in on Derrick Whittenburg’s staff at Wagner. He spent two years with the Seahawks and a year at Youngstown State before rejoining Whittenburg for three seasons at Fordham.

But at the end of the 2005-06 season, Burns was dissatisfied with the college game.

“My passion was always player development. I was always in the gym. That was something I always enjoyed,” he said. “When I got into college coaching, it was an opportunity to learn the business, make contacts and build my network. I really enjoyed my time. But at the end of the day I felt like there wasn’t enough time on the court to work with players.”

Burns knew Jay Hernandez, a former player at Hofstra and in the Puerto Rican professional league, from clinics and summer camps they ran together in Long Island.

Hernandez had founded Pro Hoops NYC and offered Burns a chance to stay in basketball with more time on the court.

“This brings me back to my natural passion,” Burns said. “I loved the game so much. I knew I’d be around it in some capacity.”

Many former coaches try to stay in the game, but it’s not easy. Scouting and running AAU programs aren’t lucrative and require considerable time commitments. Training and private coaching is a relatively new and expanding field. A growing number of pro players have personal coaches that work with them in varying amounts.

Burns’ friend and Bernardston native Adam Harrington was a personal coach for Kevin Durant before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets player development director.

“This industry has grown so much in the past five to seven years,” said Burns, whose brother Tim, a George Mason alum, is also part of the Pro Hoop staff. “When I started I was just training Ben Gordon and Mike Dunleavy and a couple of other pros.”

The organization added players every year, including Joakim Noah, Michael Carter-Williams, Jameer Nelson and Kemba Walker.

Burns said having success with known commodities is critical for building a business like Pro Hoop.

“There’s a lot of great trainers and coaches out there doing high-level stuff. But the reality is you get exposure when you work with these high-level guys,” he said. “There’s definitely a domino effect. When they know you have their best interests at heart, they trust you and that’s been a big part of it. We’re doing things the right way, with good people. Over time, you build good relationships.”

Draft prep is the company’s highest profile endeavor. Highlighted by Ingram and Murray, Pro Hoops NYC has worked with 20 draft-eligible players ranging from projected lottery picks to others who could end up overseas. All are represented by NBA agent Jeff Shwartz.

Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudanese-born, Australia-raised big man is among those. He’s among the most intriguing players in the draft as teams will try to project from workouts how his raw athleticism translates into pro potential. How much he takes from Pro Hoops could affect his draft position.

Burns said each player’s training program is tailored toward his individual needs.

“Whether you’re a guard who wants to polish up on your pick and roll, or handling the ball and making shots, or a big that wants to get better in the post,” Burns said. “This is designed to help them improve their status for the NBA draft.

“The environment we’ve created is so strong because the group is so talented and the training is so intense,” he added. “We have inside knowledge of what the draft workouts are going to be like. We can prepare them so they can go in there feeling like ‘I’m prepared to do the best I possibly can.’”

In the offseason, Pro Hoops runs The Academy. The three-day-a-week program is designed to help aspiring basketball players in the classroom and on the court. One session is held in East Harlem and another in Brooklyn. The program is just for boys, but Burns said they’re hoping to expand and include girls.

“We give the kids homework help and academic development and training. We’re really passionate about it. It’s a free program for all the kids,” Burns said. “The goal is to give kids who are passionate about the sport, some resources to try to get to college.”

Burns enjoys all of it.

“A lot of people want to live a certain lifestyle and be involved with the game. We’ve been fortunate to figure out a niche in business for ourselves,” he said. “We’ve done so much and I’m excited about what we’ve done, but I really believe the best is yet to come. I’ve got a lot of good stuff down here. It’s a good life.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage




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