This past Saturday the scene was Purcell Pavilion – home to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team. It would be the final time A.J. Burgett would step onto the home court. A.J. graduated from Avon High School and headed to Notre Dame for a premier education and the opportunity to play the sport he loves. Over the past four years, he has battled injuries and fought for playing time.
A.J. is just one of two seniors on the team. He saved his career best performance for his senior year. On January 31st, he was given the starting nod and in 25 minutes of action scored 14 points and had 5 rebounds. This earned him a spot in the starting lineup the next game versus Miami. He played 14 minutes and scored 5 points. He was finally able to show what he could do given the opportunity. Then in practice he tweaked his ankle and found himself back on the bench.
So what would Senior Day look like for A.J.? He found out that he would once again be starting. North Carolina State won the opening tip and their forward BeeJay Anya found himself alone on the baseline. They dumped the ball down to him and as he spun and attempted the lay up there was A.J. with the block. Then on the offensive end of the floor he hustled and got a loose ball that led to him having an open jumper just inside the three point line that caught the front of the iron. Even though the shot didn’t fall you could see A.J’s energy. After a couple of trips up and down the court A.J. laid a nice screen to free up his teammate V.J. Beachem to knock down a three pointer. What a way to start the ball game! Then there was a stoppage in play at the 17:10 mark due to Anya having a shoe untied. During the stoppage Coach Brey decided to take A.J. out of the game. This would be the last time A.J. would step on the court. Even with a 14 point Notre Dame lead with two minutes to play and the student section chanting “we want A.J.” he would still not see the court. Even two alumni sitting behind me said, “he (Brey) has to put him (A.J.) back in.”
I sat down with A.J. after the game and here is what he had to say.
Q: What did today mean to you?
A: Just the end of a long road. Playing throughout high school, AAU and everything. Kinda coming to a resolution. Last time playing here and hopefully keeps going through March.
Q: Tell me about your four years.
A: It’s been a great experience. Social, basketball, school. Even though school has been pretty hard it has been a lot of fun.
Q: What is next?
A: Hopefully go overseas and play. That’s a goal but if not I will go back home and start looking for jobs but first goal would be to go overseas.
Q: Your major is what?
A: Film and television with a minor in economics.
Q: So if the job market is the way you are gonna go what kind of job are you going to be looking for?
A: I haven’t really decided yet if I want to do the film and television or like Sportcenter like a reporter or something. Or something in economics. When the time comes I will figure it out and talk to my father and some of the coaching staff.
Q: Started out the game with a nice block on the defensive end and all of a sudden you get pulled out of the game. What were you thinking at that point?
A: Not sure. Really hoped that we got the win and could send Zach (Auguste) and me out on a good note.
Q: End of the game I think you probably heard the student section chanting for Coach (Brey) to put you back in. What did that mean to you?
A: It shows their support for four years and always being behind you and having your back. It was good to hear that.
Q: Mom and dad being here. Grandma, sister. What does that mean having the family here for senior day?
A: Just being able to have their support. They’re probably the main four that always came to most away games and came to all the tournament games last year and traveled everywhere. From day one they have been there.
During his time playing for Notre Dame, A.J. has recorded 160 points, 103 rebounds, and 20 blocked shots. In the end what is going to benefit him the most is the education from Notre Dame, his positive attitude, and the importance he places on family.
I have known A.J. since middle school when I was his school counselor. I was the P.A. Announcer for his middle school and high school basketball games. I have truly seen him grow into a man. It was a honor to be able to attend his Senior Day!