Wayne Burden isn’t a famous person, at least not around here.
But at Chico State University in Chico, Calif., and in far-away Tasmania, his basketball talents still evoke memories.
If you happen to be in Frankston, Victoria, Australia there still are people around who can recall his deeds while playing for the Bears. If you hop a flight to Hobart, Tasmania, his picture is still on the wall from his days with the Hobart Tassie Devils.
“That was another world,” said Burden, a 1974 graduate of Enloe High.
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He returned to that world briefly recently when Chico State celebrated its 100th year of basketball. He was one of 100 players brought in for a ceremony at halftime of Chico’s 87-61 win over Cal State East Bay.
“It’s nice that somebody still remembers,” Burden said. “They really did it first class.
“It was 35 years ago and I felt right at home.”
A near upset
Burden played for nine years in the Australian pro leagues after a single star-studded season for Coach Pete Mathieson at Chico, a NCAA Division II school that is near Sacramento.
The highlight of the 1977 season was a four-point loss at the University of San Francisco, a club led by future NBA standout Bill Cartwright and which was ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.
“Nobody knew where we came from,” Mathieson said. “We were this close to shocking the country.”
Burden’s only memory of the game is driving to the basket and the 7-foot-1, 245-pound Cartwright swatting the ball and Burden into the stands.
Burden averaged 21.1 points per game that season and was the Far West Conference player of the year. He led Chico State in scoring, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
He thought he had another year’s eligibility. He had played at Sandhills Community College and spent a semester at Alcorn State before being spotted by a junior college coach in a pickup game while visiting relatives in Medisto, Calif.
The coach called Chico’s Matheison and Burden got to play his single season.
After the NCAA ruled he had no eligibility remaining, Burden quickly signed to play in Frankston, which was near Melbourne.
Star in Australia
Chico had played 22 exhibition games in 30 days in Australia in the summer before and Burden had been noticed.
He averaged 25.6 points per game during his first five years in Australia and was runner-up in Southeast Conference league player of the year voting.
Burden came back to Chico for knee surgery in the midst of his pro career and completed his degree. He later worked as a parole agent in California for 20 years and moved to Harnett County after retiring.
Burden was surprised when Chico invited him to the celebration. The school said it was honoring him not only for his excellence as a player, but for the way he had represented it off the court.
“Wayne is like my son,” Mathieson said. “He not only was one of the best players ever at the school, he was one of the most liked. There are a lot of people who can’t believe that Wayne came back. It is a really big thing to us.”
Burden said it was hard to believe that he was back in the spotlight, reliving days from decades ago.
“I felt at home there,” he said. “Chico State has the prettiest campus that I have ever seen. There’s a stream that runs through it and there still are beavers. But mostly, it was amazing that they wanted me back after 30, 35 years.”
It was a great place to visit, he said, but North Carolina is his home, even if he’s not famous here.