Stud freshman Burrell gets healthy at right time for Eastern


File Photo

Cam Burrell looks to pass the ball to an open teammate during Eastern’s 79-44 victory over Eureka College in an exhibition match in Lantz Arena Nov. 2.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

Before the men’s basketball team started its regular season, head coach Jay Spoonhour rattled off names of players he expected would be playmakers this season.

Out of the names of junior transfers and experienced players from last season’s team, one freshman’s name made it out of Spoonhour’s mouth: Cam Burrell.

Burrell is a 6-foot, 7-inch freshman from Chicago who is currently bouncing back from a sprained knee, and he is getting healthy at the right time for Eastern.

But looking back at what Spoonhour said before the season, he said Burrell would be one of the most athletic guys on the team and a key player for rebounding purposes.

So far, Spoonhour has seen Burrell be both.

“He’s been the best rebounder,” Spoonhour said. “The minutes he gives every time are always productive minutes.”

Burrell has rejuvenated his game since coming back from his knee injury.

After just two games, the first two of the season against Texas and IUPUI, Burrell averaged two points and three rebounds per game.

After the IUPUI game, though, Burrell found himself carefully doing layups and short post shots on the side of the court during team practices to stay somewhat active while his knee was still recovering.

He did not see any game time for an eight-game stretch, from Eastern’s game against Western Illinois on Nov. 17 to the second matchup against Western on Dec. 8.

Burrell said his knee has been getting better, and that he is probably at 90 percent right now.

Even so, he has been a game-changer since his first game back against Bradley on Dec. 15.

“He doesn’t get as many minutes right now because he’s working his way back in,” Spoonhour said. “His minutes are going to just keep going up.”

Against North Alabama on Dec. 30, he recorded only the third double-double for the Panthers this season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

In general, Burrell has improved his averages since his injury, averaging 6.14 points and 4.4 rebounds in the seven games back.

Perhaps Burrell’s best asset that he brings to the team, on par with his rebounding ability, is his athleticism and activity on the court.

Spoonhour said that Burrell is always hustling on the floor and having an impact, whether it be running after a loose ball or tipping passes or going after every rebound.

For Burrell, his mentality of always being active and going for every ball is something that was a part of his game back in Chicago.

“Growing up, in my high school, we were just very active and that was the mentality of Chicago: Just play hard and get after everything,” Burrell said.

Burrell’s athleticism and activism has made him an important part of the Panthers’ success, as his play has added another Panther who can rebound and score inside.

Speaking of scoring, Eastern has struggled at times scoring in the paint, whether it be on post moves or drives to the basket.

Spoonhour said Burrell has even helped by making cuts to the basket and getting loose rebounds on offense and putting them back up.

“When I come into the game, I feel like I can be a huge part of the game,” Burrell said. “I get a lot of tip-ins and offensive rebounds.”

As the conference season starts to heat up, Burrell will be an important part of the Panthers’ success.

Burrell will give Eastern an athletic body to bang down-low both offensively and defensively, a much needed commodity since Eastern’s conference foes have a lot of size and Eastern currently ranks at the bottom of the conference in rebounding.

Offensively, Burrell has proven that he can make shots by posting up, something that will come in handy when the Panthers are not making all of their outside shots.

Defensively, because of Burrell’s size and athleticism, he can also decently guard smaller guards on the perimeter, and since he is so long, he can keep up with the faster players in the conference.

Burrell has bounced back well since his injury, and at the right time for Eastern, as his impact will be felt on both sides of the ball as Eastern continues its run for the conference tournament.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]