Former Friar great Burno becomes coach in Illinois Takes over program at Marmion Academy in suburban Chicago

Rashon Burno was finally enjoying a little bit of what life owed him, after a lifetime of heartbreak and hardship. A product of the Duncan Avenue housing project in Jersey City, Burno was forced to grow up without parents who died when he was still a toddler, having been raised by a housebound grandmother, who also eventually died before he reached his teens.

Burno lived most of his high school days in a cramped federally subsidized apartment with his two older brothers and a younger sister. But he had a ticket out – namely his immense basketball talents.

Burno went to play basketball at St. Anthony High School, where he became a star, earning the Most Valuable Player of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions one year, collecting a record 10 steals in the T of C finale against Shawnee, a record that still stands today 12 years after the fact.

Burno then went from St. Anthony to DePaul University in Chicago, where he had a fine career playing for the Blue Demons under Pat Kennedy on the same team with current NBA stars Quentin Richardson of the Knicks and Bobby Simmons of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite the family hardship and despite being undersized at only 5-foot-7, Burno made the most of his basketball skills, earning a college degree, playing at the highest level of college basketball.

Burno eventually got a job in the investment world, first with Morgan Stanley and later with Wachovia, making far more money than he could have ever dreamed of when he was working part-time at a West Side Avenue hardware store. He had a very comfortable life in Chicago, earning a solid living.

But at age 28, Burno felt like there was something missing – his involvement with the game he knew and loved so well.

“I came to a point in my life where I wanted to try to give back,” Burno said. “I wanted to be able to help others the way people helped me. Once you play for someone like Coach [Bob] Hurley, you never let basketball get out of your system.”

A few months ago, Burno returned to his hometown and hung around with the Friar program and Coach Hurley for a few days. The fire had returned. Burno had to get into coaching.

“Just a few days being around Coach Hurley made me realize how much I missed basketball,” Burno said. “I knew that I wanted to get back into it and wanted to become a coach, but it had to be the right situation.”

Enter Marmion Academy, a small Catholic high school in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago about 45 miles west of the Windy City. The school was in search of a new head basketball coach and wanted someone who played the game.

It had been only five years since Burno last played for DePaul, so this seemed like a perfect fit.

“We went through a search and wanted a coach who played the game,” said Joe Chivari, the athletic director at Marmion. “We also thought the higher the level, the better. Rashon fit the bill. He also has such enthusiasm for the game and understands the youth of today. We’re trying to build a program and we’re looking for a way to attract student/athletes. Rashon also understands the culture of a Catholic school, having played at two respected Catholic institutions.”

So Rashon Burno, respected businessman and former basketball player, has taken on the challenge of coaching a basketball team with a predominately white student enrollment. Here’s an African-American who has come from the worst housing project in Jersey City to coach a predominately white team in suburban Illinois.

“It’s funny how life comes full circle,” Burno said. “The Catholic foundation that I have instilled in me will carry on in this challenge. It’s going to be exciting. Frankly, I’m a little nervous. I never was a head coach before. I also have high expectations of myself. But I’m going head-first and utilizing what I learned as a coach. I know the talent level will be different. The culture is different. But I’m going to try to instill a winning attitude.”

Added Burno, “When I was in Jersey City, basketball was a ticket out. It’s different here. I have to change the mindset of these youngsters and have them realize that basketball is important.”

Burno was asked if being a product of nearby DePaul will help him in his new challenge.

“I think it gives me instant credibility, but it also includes my high school days,” Burno said. “People out here know St. Anthony. You mention St. Anthony in Chicago and right away they mention Coach Hurley and all the players. I think both schools will play a part in making the kids believe in me.”

“It’s important for the students to respect the coach,” Chivari said. “I think Rashon will do a good job with that. I think we both share an intense desire to reach out to the community and give an ongoing commitment. I think he will do fine here.”

Burno will also teach consumer economics at the school, while maintaining his business contacts with Wachovia.

Burno said that he feels Marmion will be a good challenge for him as a head coach.

“I think it has a lot of potential,” Burno said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for me to give back. Ideally, I wish it was back home, but this is my best opportunity here. My children are here. My business contacts are here. It’s the best for now.”

Burno remembered an article that was written in the Jersey Journal by columnist Ed “The Faa” Ford when Burno was in high school.

“The Faa wrote that you can’t judge someone’s success by wealth,” Burno said. “He wrote that you judge someone by when they come back to help the next kid. I’m hoping I’m getting the chance to pass things on to the next kid now.”

Hurley said that he gets a sense of pride every time one of his former players ventures into the coaching world. All totaled, Hurley has about 20 former players in the coaching ranks, with his son Danny among them, along with Union Hill coach Carlos Cueto, current Rutgers assistant Darren Savino, new Hudson Catholic head coach Damel Ling and Hurley’s long-time assistant Ben Gamble among them.

“It’s nice to know that as a high school coach, you have an important role in their lives,” Hurley said. “I am proud, because I think I’m a demanding coach and I don’t know how kids view me. But when something like this happens, it makes me think that I wasn’t so bad. Rashon has played at the highest level and he was one who maximized his talents. He was a tough kid who should do well as a coach.”

“I’m getting a chance to make an impact with kids,” Burno said. “It’s all I ask for.”

From a personal standpoint, there’s a sense of pride here as well, because for three years (1988 through 1990), this reporter had the privilege to coach Burno when he played Biddy basketball for Jersey City Recreation. It marks three of my former players now in the coaching ranks, joining Cueto and Rob O’Donnell, who is coaching the boys’ basketball team at P.S. 28 in Jersey City.

Come to think of it, Anthony Verdi, the wrestling coach and director of alumni relations at St. Peter’s Prep, also had the misfortune of playing Biddy basketball for one of my teams in the past and was a teammate of Burno. Just like Hurley said, there is a sense of pride when one of the former kids you coached now does the same thing. Burno will always be a major success in whatever he chooses to do.


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