RANDOLPH, NJ - John Burkard may not be the flashiest player on Chatham boys basketball team, but his work ethic and impact are undeniable.
Burkard delivered his best offensive showing of the season on Saturday night as the Cougars advanced to the Morris County Tournament Championship game for the third straight year with a 70-39 victory over Randolph at the County College of Morris.
"He played great," Chatham guard Jack Rooney said. "That's got to be his best game by far, defensively, offensively, rebounding. He was asked to guard Luke Nathan (Randolph's 6-10 center) for the majority of the game and he did a great job."
Burkard is hoping his strong play will help the Cougars earn a second straight MCT crown.
The 6-6 Burkard, a senior, is one of two key frontcourt players for Chatham – the other being Graham LeMon. While LeMon handles the load offensively, Burkard gets the job done on the boards and on defense. He's usually assigned the top offensive player on the opposing team.
“Defense has always been my strong suit,” Burkard said. “I just take pride in defending and trying to lock guys down. I just don’t like getting scored on.”
Most recently, Burkard made his defensive presence known in Chatham’s road game against Millburn on Thursday, a 54-53 quadruple overtime win. With the game tied in the first overtime period, Burkard forced a Millburn turnover and was fouled on the fast break. He proceeded to hit one of two free throws in front of a tough Millburn crowd.
Later on in fourth overtime, Burkard again made a clutch defensive play. Down 52-51 with under a minute left, Burkard intercepted a Millburn pass on the left wing. He drove across the court and was again fouled, hitting one of two from the line to tie the game up. His defensive presence in overtime, coupled with clutch shooting from Jack Rooney, led the Cougars to a hard-fought victory on the road.
Just two days later, Burkard showcased his offensive abilities when the Cougars were forced to deal with an early injury in the MCT semifinals. In the opening minute of the game, LeMon rolled his ankle landing with a rebound and was forced to exit the game. Needing a strong offensive presence inside, Burkard rose to the occasion.
“I know that we have great defenders on our team, so I wasn’t worried,” Burkard said. “Obviously [LeMon] is a big scorer on our team, but we knew that if we stuck together we could come out strong.”
Burkard hit two straight baskets inside to cap the Cougars' 11-0 run to open up the game. By the time LeMon returned from his injury, Chatham had a double-digit lead over Randolph. Burkard ended the game with a season-high 10 points to go with six rebounds and a steal.
“I know that I need to step up in these situations,” Burkard said. “I think my game has just come together as the season progressed, and it’s come together at the right time. I don’t take it for granted. Not every team has this opportunity, so to get back here is something special.”
Chatham will square off against No. 1 seed Morristown-Beard on Saturday, February 25 at the County College of Morris to determine the MCT champion.
“It’s been our goal all season long,” he said. “We’re confident in our game. We just want to go out and compete.”