BY JEREMY HOECK
The newest addition to the University of South Dakota men’s basketball roster has a significant connection to one assistant, but two of the other coaches (including head coach Craig Smith) are far from unfamiliar with Tre Burnette.
Coach No. 4, assistant Austin Hansen, was the one the staff leaned to for an evaluation of how Burnette — a 6-foot-5 guard from Williston (N.D.) State College — would adjust to the Summit League.
According to assistant Eric Peterson, who came to USD after serving as the head coach at Williston State (where he coached Burnette for one season), Hansen’s previous experience as an assistant at South Dakota State certainly came in handy with the pursuit of Burnette.
“That was one of the biggest things,” Peterson said Tuesday, hours after USD announced Burnette’s signing.
“We wanted Austin’s opinion of Tre because he’s coached in the Summit; he knows what would be a good fit.”
Hansen watched some tape, evaluated Burnette and came back with the following advice: “He’s a no-brainer for our league; let’s get this kid.”
Of the four members of USD’s coaching staff, Smith, Peterson, and Gameli Ahelegbe have not spent time in the Summit League. Though they are each familiar with Burnette.
• Smith tried recruiting another Williston State player, point guard Trey Dickerson, to Nebraska. Dickerson, however, recently signed with Iowa. But it was during that time that Smith saw Burnette in person or on film.
• Ahelegbe, a former assistant at the University of North Dakota, tried recruiting Burnette to Grand Forks. He therefore also saw Burnette play in person or on film.
• Peterson, of course, coached Burnette last season at Williston, where the Tetons went 27-6 and won the Mon-Dak Conference title.
When Smith announced his USD coaching staff on April 14, the trio immediately began recruiting, and Burnette’s name came up rather quickly.
“He was somebody I thought of right away when coach offered me the job,” Peterson said.
“I’ve seen a little bit of North Dakota State, with me being up in North Dakota, so I’m a little adjusted to it,” but nothing like Austin.”
Burnette is a native of Madison, Wis., where he played at perennial title contender Madison Memorial High School. He led his team to two consecutive state championship games, winning the crown as a junior.
“Tre was a little under recruited out of high school, to be honest,” Peterson said. “He played with a couple guys that maybe got some more notoriety, but he was a great player on his own.”
Two of those teammates at Madison Memorial were Vander Blue and Jeronne Maymon, who both signed with Marquette. Maymon then transferred to Tennessee and Blue is now in the NBA D-League.
When it came time for Burnette to make his college decision, though, he chose the junior college route at Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill. He spent one season there before transferring to Williston State for the 2013-14 season.
“That was our main goal at Williston, to create some opportunities for those guys,” Peterson said.
“My selling point was, ‘You get to play 31 games a year and play against good teams, and we’ll do everything we can to get you some exposure,’” Peterson added.
And with the Tetons, Burnette thrived in his one season.
He averaged 15.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game, and had a handful of other Division I schools express interest.
Peterson said Burnette played mostly the No. 3 spot at Williston State, but was versatile enough to guard on the perimeter or down in the post.
“He can score at a lot of different levels,” Peterson said. “We ran a lot of ball screen stuff and ran some sets for him in the post to get him the ball.”
Burnette is likely to see significant action next season at USD, which is likely to have some scholarships still open for the 2014-15 season.
Ultimately, Burnette’s signing could also impact the program beyond just next year, according to Peterson.
“We just needed somebody to get the momentum rolling,” Peterson said. “Personally I felt Wisconsin is an area we want to recruit, and having someone from Wisconsin on our roster will help us.”