RENO - Lyndale Burleson won't come right out and say it, but then again he doesn't have to.
The 2004-05 season was one he'd rather forget. He was declared academically ineligible by the NCAA before practice started and had to sit out the season despite an appeal by school officials. He was allowed to work out with the team, but couldn't play in any games and couldn't travel with the team.
"It was real tough," he said after a recent Nevada practice. "I'd see somebody do something wrong, and I'd want to get out there in my sweats and just play defense.
"My brother (Nate, former Pack wide receiver) and Marcelus (Kemp) helped me get through it. Marcelus had gotten hurt and he was going through the same thing. I would go shoot by myself or with Marcelus when the team was on the road. I worked real hard in the off-season on my shooting."
Under NCAA rules, Burleson couldn't even accompany the team to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament
"I watched the games on TV," he said. "I wouldn't have wanted to be there unless I could have sat on the bench with my teammates."
It would have been too easy to just go through the motions, knowing you would just be a practice player all year. That's not Burleson. He showed his maturity not only with the way he handled the problem, but by going out and having a successful academic year.
"I thought he handled it really well until January when we started traveling for league play," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "It's tough when we were on the road for four or five days at a time."
With the start of another season right around the corner, you can see some difference in Burleson.
"I'm more focused this year," Burleson said. "Last year I was worried about whether I would be playing or not. I'm way more focused. I want to help this team win games."
How quick he gets out of the gate remains to be seen. Save for the Italy trip during the summer, Burleson hasn't played a competitive game since his senior year in high school, and there is bound to be some rust on his game.
"I hope there isn't, but facing reality there probably will be," he said. "Playing in Italy was a lot different. Hopefully there won't be too much rust; no more than two games to get out of it. Hopefully after a few plays and then you hear that whistle and all the rust gone."
"No doubt there is going to be rust," Fox said. "Where we see that I don't know. We'll see when the lights come on."
Fox has already intimated that Burleson will only see action at point guard, and Fox said the job is up for grabs. That's hard to believe considering what WAC Freshman of the Year Ramon Sessions accomplished last year.
Is there enough minutes to go around?
"It could be a good thing," Burleson said. "It will allow us to get rest. Coach Fox wants to play at a faster pace this year. It will be tough on opponents when fresh guys come in at 100 percent. Coach Fox is really good at that (subbing pattern). Whoever is out there is getting the minutes they deserve.
"It's a good situation playing just the point. I won't be focusing on scoring at all because this team has enough scorers. I just want to play good defense and get the ball to the shooters."
How many minutes Burleson gets this year will hinge on his defense. Kyle Shiloh proved that defense makes a difference, as he played nearly 30 minutes a game and started all 32 Pack games because of his ballhandling and defensive skills.
"He (coach Fox) talked about it," Burleson said. "If you don't play defense, you are not going to be out there.
"I take pride in my defense. Defense comes first. I grew up with three older brothers (Alvin, Nate and Kevin), and they all told me if you can't play defense, no coach will look at you. It's about mind control. You can't lunge and slap at the ball. You have to have the right technique. It doesn't matter how quick you are."
Burleson credits his older brothers, especially Alvin, for leading the way.
"If it wasn't for him, none of us would have played sports," Burleson said. "He put it out there for us and we just followed him. I thank him for what he's done.
"I learned something from all of my brothers. I learned to be tough physically like Nate. I learned the basketball game from Kevin. Alvin watches a lot of point guards, and he would teach me some moves that point guards do that I could bring back to Nevada."
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281
The Burleson File
Hometown - Seattle, Washington
Year in school - Redshirt freshman
Position - Point guard
Height - 6-3
Weight - 185