Steamboat Springs Things weren't always this good for him.
There was a time when school, commitment and life after basketball weren't in his mind. He let his ego get ahead of him. He was selfish. He didn't buy into the many influences trying to point him to the road of success.
Basketball was always there. A game he fell in love with at age 11 on the playgrounds in Lakewood. He was good at it. Darn good, in fact. But his lifestyle, behavior off the court and attitude threatened to take the game and a successful life away.
But now he sees it as clear as day. He knows he was wrong. He's put himself in a better position. He associates with better people. He takes class seriously. He was baptized last summer. He's got a solid foundation around him, including a girlfriend he's been with for 18 months.
And now Cameron Burney has put himself in position to do something he wasn't sure would ever happen.
Burney, a junior guard starting on the Division II, No. 5-ranked University of Alaska Anchorage basketball team, is on track to graduate from college with a degree in business management and a minor in philosophy.
"I think about where I'm at probably every day," Burney said from Alaska on Thursday. "When I really get thinking about being all the
way across the country, being in this beautiful, beautiful place, the great friends and great girlfriend I have, it blows my mind sometimes. When I think about where my life was, this wasn't where I pictured myself being."
Burney's basketball talent was always evident. Steamboat Springs boys basketball coach Kelly Meek called Burney, a 2005 Steamboat graduate, a player with "the most potential to ever walk through this program."
Burney was the first post player off the bench for Meek his freshman year. But because of disciplinary problems, Meek forced Burney to stay home for the Sailors playoff game.
Then, during Burney's junior year, Meek told Burney if he stayed out of trouble, didn't have anyone complain about him and was never late for a class for three weeks, Burney could play.
That year, Burney sat out 14 straight games. He made it back for two games before he was late for a class.
Meek kicked Burney off the team.
"If we would have played him, it would have been a disservice to the community, to others in the program and the youth," Meek said. "It would have been a total disservice to everyone but more importantly to him. Somewhere that lesson had to be learned and gleaned. It's better you finally get it than never get it."
Going to work
Burney started to get it his senior year.
After a summer of basketball in Denver, where about every team in the metro area wanted Burney to come play for them, Burney called Meek, saying he owed it to the veteran coach and the team.
"I told him to do it the right way. For yourself and your family," Meek said. "He made it all the way through his senior year, he was player of the year, he was our leading scorer, our leading rebounder and set the all-state game on fire."
Burney signed a national letter of intent to play basketball for coach Tim Moser at Otero Junior College in La Junta.
Burney played well at Otero his first year. When Moser accepted a position to coach the Alaska Anchorage women's basketball team, he let men's coach Rusty Osborne know about Burney.
"Cameron indicated to coach Moser with him leaving he wanted to look to him to move on," Osborne said. "We liked him as a player, got to know him and liked him as a person."
With three years of eligibility left, Osborne said he saw potential in Burney. A foot injury at Otero and having to focus only on playing the perimeter put Burney a little behind the learning curve.
As a result, Burney didn't sniff a minute of playing time the first part of his first season in Alaska.
Inside, he admits he was angry. Burney wasn't used to sitting on the bench. But that's when Burney credits another big change in his life.
Instead of pouting or acting out, Burney went to work.
He came in early to lift weights. He stayed late to get extra shots.
Toward the end of the year, Burney's hard work started to pay dividends.
Burney cracked the rotation the last 10 games of the year.
"To his credit, he continued to work hard even when the playing time wasn't there," Osborne said. "By the end of the year, he was a big contributor. He was a big part of our run in the NCAA Tournament last year."
Still, just playing wasn't enough for Burney. He dedicated himself in the summer, coming home for only a week before returning to Alaska. The long summer days allowed him to play basketball about any time he wanted.
When this season began, Burney found his name etched in the starting lineup.
Now, he's helped Alaska-Anchorage to an 18-3 overall record and the No. 5 ranking nationally.
The Seawolves three losses have come against Division I competition.
Burney, who is averaging six points and four rebounds a game, has become one of the most versatile players on the team.
"He has lived up to his obligation for us," said Osborne, who admits Burney's past concerned him when they recruited him. "He's been very classy, good in the classroom, off the floor and in the community. He represents himself well and his family well. Cameron took responsibility and surrounded himself with other good people : We asked him to meet his obligations, but I think Cameron wanted to. He's making great life decisions and is on the way to being a great person."
Burney is focused on getting the Seawolves as far in the postseason as possible. With nine games left in the season before the NCAA Tournament, Burney said he's focusing on the now.
But his future will almost always include basketball. He hopes to travel to Australia to play professionally after college, and even mentioned coming back to Steamboat to help Meek.
Maybe more importantly, though, Burney's future also includes a life outside of basketball. He already has an internship locked up with Wachovia Securities and said he hopes to become a stockbroker in the future.
Burney admits he's amazed at where he is sometimes. Through everything, Burney realized the air eventually would run out of basketball. But when playing ball eventually does go flat, he's assured himself success - even if it's not on the court.
"The first thing I'm going to do when I get my degree is make a copy and send it to coach Meek. I have to get that degree in the mail. That's the first thing," Burney said. "I never thought I'd be doing what I am doing. I planned on going to college and the only reason was because that was the next thing I was supposed to do.
"But I respect and I'm happy (with) what I went through, with all the trials and tribulations in Steamboat. It made me the person I am today."
- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org